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Article France: Government Eases Restrictions Related to COVID-19 Pandemic

(May 14, 2020) On May 11, 2020, the French government published a decree easing some of the restrictions it had put in place on March 17 to stop the spread of COVID-19 and determining the restrictions that will remain in place.

Public gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited unless necessary for professional reasons. Bars, cafés, and restaurants are to remain closed, but services such as hair salons and spas are allowed to open so long as they respect certain sanitary requirements to limit the risk of infection. Shops and shopping centers of under 40,000 square meters may also open. Shopping centers of 40,000 square meters or more and open-air markets may also open, but prefects may order them to stay closed if the local situation warrants it.

Theaters and cinemas are to remain closed, but libraries and small museums may reopen. Larger museums, monuments, and zoos, however, are to remain closed unless allowed to open by the local prefect, after consultation with the relevant town mayor and the institution’s management. Gyms, public swimming pools, and other athletic facilities are to remain closed.

Houses of worship may open, but still may not conduct public ceremonies. Marriage ceremonies are to be postponed unless justified by an urgent necessity, and funerals are limited to a maximum of 20 attendees.

High schools are to remain closed, but preschools and kindergartens may now open so long as they limit attendance to no more than 10 students per class. Elementary schools may open, but need to limit attendance to no more than 15 students per class. In all cases, school staff are required to wear masks.

Travel is still limited. French residents may take a commercial flight only for an important personal or professional reason, and must carry a written document by which they declare, on their honor, that they do not have any symptoms of COVID-19.

Similarly, any travel of more than 100 kilometers is allowed only for important personal or professional reasons. Persons traveling farther than 100 kilometers from their home must have a written document in which they declare the purpose of their travel. Access to public transportation is to remain limited during peak hours to allow passengers to follow social distancing guidelines. The wearing of a mask is mandatory for passengers on planes, trains, taxis, and public transportation.

For the purposes of this déconfinement (de-lockdown), France has been divided into “green” and “red” zones on the basis of three main indicators: the current infection rate, the current availability of hospital intensive care capacity, and the current availability of coronavirus tests. There appear to be enough tests available for all of France, but there are still areas where the infection rate is relatively high and areas where the hospital intensive care capacity is being strained by the number of COVID-19 patients. These areas are designated as red zones. While most of France is designated as green, a significant portion is designated as red, namely the entire northeastern quarter of France, including Paris, and the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte. The red zones remain subject to a few more restrictions than the green zones. Whereas access to parks and public gardens is now allowed in the green zones, it is still prohibited in the red zones. Middle schools will open, with a limit of 15 students per class, from May 18 in the green zones but remain closed in the red zones. Some restrictions are specific to particular regions in the red zones. For example, in Paris and the surrounding region, access to public transportation during rush hour is limited to those who have a document from their employer or a document that shows that their trip is justified by an important reason.

These new measures will remain in place until June 1, and the government will reevaluate them toward the end of May to determine whether they can be further loosened after that. However, as the report of the coordinator for the national déconfinement strategy notes, the government may need to reinstate some of the stricter restrictions that existed before May 11 if the number of coronavirus infections increases again. Furthermore, in both red and green zones, local prefects are given the authority to impose additional restrictions at any time if necessary to prevent new increases in the number infections.

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