As the coronavirus outbreak intensifies in France, the world’s No.1 tourist destination, there would have to be thousands of travelers out there worried about pending trips to the country. Worried about travel fullstop.
“France is now one of the main homes to the new virus in Europe, along with Italy and Germany,” declared current affairs magazine Le Point on Tuesday. Since then the situation has worsened, with all 13 French regions now hit by COVID-19. In four days, from Friday February 28, infections grew over fivefold from 38 to 212 reported cases.
“France prepares for a long combat” reads a Le Point headline today, following the country’s fourth death. “With the rate of deaths doubling in three days, France is preparing for a new intensification of the epidemic. Just a week ago, the country had only 12 cases, mostly related to patients who passed through China. But with the emergence of outbreaks outside of China, the epidemic has since experienced a sudden acceleration in France.”
The European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control this week elevated the risk of contracting coronavirus in Europe, now at “moderate to high”.
Coronavirus In The World’s Top Tourist Destination
Remembering, France was again the world’s leading destination in 2019, according to the UN’s World Tourism Organisation, with 86.9 million visitors. So the implications for travelers and tourism are enormous. Here are a few vital points to be aware of if you are landing in France any day now, or just planning a trip:
1. What risk is there of being infected with the virus in France?
The French public health agency, Santé Publique, says France is now in “stage two” of the epidemic, on a scale of three. All 13 French regions (excluding overseas territories), are now affected by the virus. Six have less than ten cases.
The disease epicentre is the northern L’Oise department, about 90 km (55 miles) north of Paris, where at least 64 people are contaminated. 108 schools are closed as a result. In Greater Paris there are 34 confirmed cases. Another problem area statistics show is the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, with 37 cases.
“152 of the cases are part of the human to human transmission chain, 47 have returned from overseas areas affected by the virus, and 21 have been contaminated by a means not yet identified,” said Jérôme Salomon, head of the French public health service Tuesday.
2. What Health Measures Has France Put In Place To Curb The Virus Spread?
Measures include an airport screening program (called “specific reception service”) at Paris Charles de Gaulle for travelers arriving from China, Hong-Kong and Macao. The service is staffed by Health Ministry medical and paramedical professionals as well civil security staff.
“The entire French health system is ready to deal with the disease,” the government assures. Part of that readiness is the setting up of 70 new emergency care facilities nationwide (Samu) to handle possible outbreaks of the coronavirus. The aim is for all French departments “to have at least one hospital center capable of welcoming the sick and taking care of them from start to finish,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
3. Will Museums, The Eiffel Tower etc. Be Open?
The Louvre is currently closed indefinitely as workers exercise a right to stop work because of health dangers. Check back on its website ahead of a visit to see if its doors have reopened. “Preventive doctors” will then be on site to help tourists at the world’s most popular art gallery the Louvre administration says. (“Protect the star of the museum” the following tweet reads.)
As to other cultural institutions, the French Ministry of Culture is currently meeting with them to plan measures to be taken if the epidemic worsens. Meantime, many other major concerts, sporting and cultural events are being cancelled after a French ban on gatherings of more than 5000 people “in confined spaces”. The Eiffel Tower does not count among them Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said yesterday, so for now it stays open to tourists. As does Disneyland Paris. Check the links on my other story to see events currently being affected, from book fairs to tourism salons.
4. Will Public Transport Be Closed?
“Are there plans to shut down public transport if the situation worsens?” a journalist asked the mayor during a recent press conference. Her answer: “A completely legitimate question … this type of decision can only be taken under the authority of the prefect of police.” For now, there is no such intention,
5. Will EU Borders Be Open? French, German and Italian officials have ruled out closing borders. Viruses do not recognize them they say. So for now you will be able to travel freely in Europe.
Numbers To Dial for Health Information: France has set up a lot of public information on the government website. Little of it is available in English, but it should be. For round-the-clock info about COVID-19 call the toll-free number: 0 800 130 000. “This platform is not empowered to provide medical advice,” the government warns. For any serious health concerns dial 15.
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