The element of surprise worked. By convening without having previously announced a health defense council in the evening, Friday, January 29, Emmanuel Macron managed to cut short the rumors that had poisoned the French political and health debate since the beginning of the week. The president, urged by scientific experts to re-confine the country strictly, chose the option of resilience, despite the progression of cases of contamination (22,858 new cases on Friday, for a total of 27,000 people hospitalized and more of 3,000 patients in intensive care). With this crucial question: how to control the flow of population if the stores remain open (with the exception of large shopping centers, which will close from Sunday January 31)? And how to implement the requirement of negative PCR tests on arrival at French borders, outside airports and port areas?
What does a “reinforced” curfew in France mean?
The expression is more fuzzy than it looks. The curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. has been in effect throughout France since Saturday, January 16. It was previously differentiated according to the departments, according to the incidence rate of the coronavirus. This measure, everyone can see, has rather worked on the side of traders and pedestrians, knowing that restaurants and cafes have been closed since the end of October. Major French cities, starting with Paris, have since been very empty from the early evening. On the other hand, it is difficult to have this same feeling of efficiency when we look at the main roads and the influx of motorists around metropolises at still late hours, even if the passengers, isolated in their vehicles, are not not in contact.
A “reinforced” curfew therefore means in theory more checks with fines of 135 euros to the key. The most significant measure, in these weeks of school holidays from February 6 to early March (according to the academies), is however the closure of non-food shopping centers of more than 20,000 square meters from Sunday evening. And this, in the midst of the winter sales! 396 hypermarkets are concerned across France. It is obviously a question of avoiding the crowds, but also of helping businesses in increasingly deserted city centers. They will remain open. Finally, be careful: the strengthening of the curfew remains a temporary measure. “The question of confinement is legitimately raised, but we know the very heavy impact for the French,” explained Prime Minister Jean Castex after the health defense council convened by surprise. We can still give ourselves a chance to avoid it. Our duty is to do everything possible to avoid a future confinement ”.
PCR border tests required for all arrivals. Possible?
For travel between France and its neighbors, including Switzerland, the question is crucial. However, the answer we have, after checking with the French Ministry of Health, remains unclear. At this time, the instructions are clear: only cross-border commuters will be exempt from testing, as Jean Castex indicated, according to which “any entry into France from an EU country will be conditioned, from Sunday midnight to carrying out a PCR test at the latest 72 hours before departure, with the exception of cross-border workers ”. This therefore presupposes that controls are put in place on the main roads for all other vehicles, and at the entry or exit of trains from other countries of the European Union or the Schengen area. A measure hitherto avoided, due to logistical difficulties, when the police will have to further crisscross the territory to ensure that the curfew is respected.
At this stage, Jean Castex’s announcement should lead to a reduction in services on the Thalys networks (between France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany – a majority of trains have already been canceled), Lyria (France- Switzerland) or for trains to Luxembourg, Spain and Italy. But beware: “Stricter measures can intervene at any time”, warns the Ministry of Health, where we rely on the last decree published in the official journal. We must not forget either the effect of the government announcement on public opinion: its purpose is to discourage travel. Especially those outside the EU: “Any entry into France and any exit from our territory to or from a country outside the European Union will be prohibited, unless there is an overriding reason,” said Jean Castex. However, the requirement for negative PCR tests is already applied at airports, generally when getting off the plane. The Belgian border is also closed to “tourists” in both directions for the time being until March 1.
Important point: even if the negative PCR test is not required on the road or in train stations from abroad, all travelers entering France are normally required to undertake on their honor to be placed there. isolation for seven days. This implies declaring your place of accommodation. But again, how? And with whom? If no concrete and precise explanation is formulated by Sunday midnight, passengers with a “pressing need” to travel by train – on available frequencies, rarefied – or the route from a neighboring country to France, or vice versa, can continue to do so without (too much) hassle.