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 academies), is however the closure of non-food shopping centers of more than 20,000 square meters from this Saturday 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.
On the official side, the instructions are clear: only cross-border commuters are now exempt from testing, as Jean Castex indicated, according to which “any entry into France from an EU country will be conditioned, from Sunday midnight. carrying out a PCR test no later than 72 hours before departure, with the exception of cross-border workers ”. The obligation to carry a negative test on you if you are not a cross-border worker has therefore in theory entered into force.
In Bern, the French Embassy in Switzerland confirms via a message on its website updated this Saturday, January 30: “Any traveler of eleven years or over wishing to come to France from a country in the European area (European Union , Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Holy See and Switzerland) has the obligation to present the result of a virological screening biological examination (RT-PCR) not concluding to contamination by COVID- 19 carried out 72 hours before departure. Frontier workers are not affected by this measure ”.
Requiring these tests is one thing, however. Ensuring control and managing the consequences (possible refusal of passengers, fines of 135 euros, etc.) is another. For now, it seems difficult to inspect all vehicles presumed to be “non-border”, and all 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 crisscross the territory more to ensure that the curfew is respected ….
The uncertainty therefore remains, at this stage, unlike in air traffic where the presentation of a negative PCR test in both directions (on entry into France and Switzerland) is now required. This is generally required as soon as you get off the plane.
Jean Castex’s announcement, however, 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. The Belgian border is for example closed to “tourists”, in both directions, for the time being until March 1.
Important additional point: even if the negative PCR test is not required on the road or in stations from abroad, all travelers entering France are normally required to undertake on the honor to stand at isolation for seven days. This implies declaring your place of accommodation. But again, how? And with whom? Clarifications should be made in the coming days.