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Curfews, vaccines, schools: Roundup of France’s Covid update

We summarise the important points made by the government last night 

Several of France’s top government ministers made a series of announcements regarding the Covid-19 situation in a press conference held last night (January 14). 

This included an update on the Covid vaccine rollout, a new earlier curfew time for the whole country, new school rules and tighter border restrictions

We summarise the key points of the press conference. 

The curfew

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that a 18:00 to 06:00 curfew will apply to the whole of France beginning on Saturday, January 16.

This longer curfew is already in place in 25 departments in the east of the country and will now replace the 20:00 to 06:00 curfew in place in the rest of France.

The new measures will remain for at least 15 days.

He said that the effectiveness of a curfew beginning at 18:00 has been confirmed by the Conseil Scientifique, a body that advises the government on Covid-related matters. He said in the areas where the 18:00 curfew has been in place since January 2, the increase in new Covid-19 cases is two or three times less than in other departments.

What are the exceptions to France’s 18:00 curfew?

Border restrictions

France is to tighten its travel restrictions on those entering the country from outside of the EU, including the UK, as a prevention against the spread of new variants of Covid-19. 

From Monday, January 18, all travellers entering France from outside the EU, regardless of their nationality, must be tested for Covid-19 72 hours before departure and present the negative results to their travel company. 

Upon arrival, they are strongly advised to self-isolate for seven days and then take a second PCR test. This is not a legal requirement. 

Cross-border workers, goods transport drivers and essential health workers are exempt. 

Health Minister Olivier Véran said that the “so-called British variant is responsible for 1.4% of Covid-19 cases diagnosed currently in France”.

More people eligible for vaccine from next week

France will begin vaccinations against Covid-19 to certain groups of the public from Monday, January 18, with around 6.4 million people now eligible. 

This will include everyone over 75 years old as well as those at risk of developing serious forms of the virus due to existing chronic conditions regardless of their age, Mr Castex said. 

The high risk vulnerable group will include, for example, people suffering from severe kidney failure, those who have undergone an organ transplant, people undergoing cancer treatment and those with Down's syndrome. It will cover around 800,000 people in France.

Mr Castex called the prioritisation of the most vulnerable a question of "ethics and efficiency".

Which high-risk people can be vaccinated Monday in France?

New school rules

"It is essential to keep schools open because there are psychological, health and educational consequences," said Jean-Michel Blanquer, the minister of national education. 

However, the health protocol will be reinforced. School and extra-curricular indoor sports activities are suspended until further notice.

He described school canteens as the “weak link” as it is the place where pupils take off their masks. He promised that there would be increased vigilance on this matter.

In primary schools, there will be no more mixing of pupils from different classes at lunch.

“Pupils in the same class will eat together every day. If this is not possible, lunch time will be extended and as a last resort we will be able to have take-away meal solutions,” Mr Blanquer said. 

Finally, Covid testing capacities will also be strongly reinforced in schools, with a target of 300,000 tests per week.

Covid France: Schools to do one million tests per month

Resumption of university tutorials for some

First-year university students will be able to resume face-to-face tutorials in half-groups from January 25.

This measure will then be extended, if the health situation allows it, to students at other levels.

Mr Castex, the prime minister, said the government was "concerned" at the "deep sense of isolation, but also the real pedagogical difficulties" of university students.

Extra year for businesses to repay state-guaranteed loans

Companies will have the right to delay repaying state-guaranteed loans (PGEs) taken out to deal with the coronavirus crisis for an extra year.

When PGEs were introduced at the beginning of the health crisis the state introduced a one-year grace period before the banks could demand the repayment of loans.

This period was therefore set to expire at the end of March this year for certain companies.

State aid for big businesses affected by the crisis

The fixed costs of companies with a turnover of more than €1,000,000 per month that have closed or are experiencing a "limitation of their activity" because of Covid will be covered up to 70%, announced Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire.

This "exceptional aid", which will be in addition to aid from the solidarity fund, is currently capped at €3 million for the period from January to June 2021, the minister said.

He said that this new measure is aimed at "big businesses" such as hotel chains, restaurant owners who have several restaurants in the same city and indoor activities such as bowling alleys or sports halls.

For smaller companies, the government will "work with the members of parliament" to define the "best ways of lowering this one million euro threshold, which can penalise a certain number of very specific small businesses", Mr Le Maire said. 

Reconfinement not ruled out

Mr Castex said that a third lockdown would be put in place without hesitation if the Covid-19 situation got worse. However, he said that currently there is no need for such a measure.

Read more:

Curfew at 18:00 for whole of France from Saturday

France tightens restrictions on travellers from outside EU

Covid vaccines France: Key details, appointments, documents

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