Coronavirus in France: What You Need to Know

(Richard Nahem)

Like most countries in Europe, COVID-19 (coronavirus) has hit France fast and furiously. After Italy, France has the highest number of recorded cases in Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron gave a sobering speech last Sunday night, March 15, addressing the nation about the latest measures the government would be imposing for the next 15 days to help stop the virus from spreading.

All non-essential businesses are closed, including retail shops, restaurants, cafés and bars. Cultural and recreational facilities are also closed, including theaters, cinemas, opera houses, public parks and gardens, concert and sports venues, and health clubs. Food shops and supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and tobacco shops are the exception, and are operating at full schedule.

The government sent a form to all residents, via text message in many cases, to fill out if they are planning to leave home. The document requires your name, date of birth and address, and lists five clauses in which you are allowed to leave home, followed by date and signature. These allowances are:

  1. Traveling for work, if you are indispensable at your job and you can’t work from home
  2. To buy essential items to live by, from a government-approved list of shops and services, which includes food shops, pharmacies and tobacco shops
  3. Health reasons
  4. To take care of children or family members in need
  5. For brief exercise, such as walking, and also for people who need to walk their dogs

Law enforcement agents are patrolling the streets, checking to see if people are carrying their forms and issuing fines between €38 and €135 ($41.22 and $146.44) if they don’t comply with the rules.

As far as travel goes, the borders of France are closed for at least the next 30 days, with the exception of French citizens returning from abroad. National and local train service, along with airline service, has been drastically reduced and there are roadblocks on major and secondary highways, with police checking to see if people are entitled to travel. The government has required people going to the airport to download a special travel form. 

Expats and foreigners living in France can breathe a little easier, as the government has automatically extended visas and residency cards for an extra three months.

Reporting from the Right Bank of Paris in the usually crowded Marais district, the streets are almost deserted. The rue de Rivoli, one of the busiest boulevards of Paris, almost always backed up with traffic, is practically devoid of cars, with an occasional bus going by. The mood is somber but people seem to be following the rules. Food shops and supermarkets, which are still receiving daily deliveries, are busy but not overwhelmed and residents are being patient, not giving into panic or hysteria. Probably the most glaring visual omission in Paris is the lack of French café chairs lining the streets and boulevards.

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