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France: Last Phase of Gradual End to Coronavirus Shutdown Commences

(June 24, 2020) On June 15, 2020, the French government published a decree by which the country entered the third and final stage of déconfinement, the phased end to the strict measures that were imposed to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This new decree amends a previous decree from May 31, 2020, which instituted the second phase of déconfinement. Phase one started on May 11, 2020. This third phase lifts additional restrictions, in continuity with the first and second phases.

The French government had divided France into “green” and “red” zones, to which an “orange” zone category was added in phase two. As of June 15, the entirety of France is classified as a “green zone,” with the exception of French Guyana and Mayotte, which are still classified as “orange” because certain epidemiological indicators in these two overseas departments are still worrisome. Orange zones remain subject to a few more restrictions than green zones.

Bars, cafés, and restaurants may now open, under the conditions that there be no more than ten customers per table with at least one meter between tables, that the staff wear face masks, and that customers also wear face masks when they are not seated at their table. In orange zones, bars, cafes, and restaurants may only serve customers outdoors.

Public swimming pools, gymnasiums, and sports clubs are now open in the green zone, but remain closed in orange zones. Group sports and contact sports are still prohibited throughout France, and stadiums remain closed. Movie theaters and dance clubs remain closed as well, although movie theaters may open again on June 22. Live theaters may now open in green zones, but not in orange zones.

All schools are now open in the green zone and students are required to attend as usual. While in class and in other indoor areas students must stay at least one meter apart, but other requirements, such as social distancing during outdoor recess, have been eased. Schools are also open in orange zones, but attendance remains optional and social distancing must be maintained in all circumstances.

Public gatherings of more than ten people are still not allowed, with the exception of properly declared political protests where fewer than 5,000 participants are expected. This exemption was not included in the decree, but was ordered by the Conseil d’Etat, France’s highest jurisdiction for matters of administrative law. Noting that the right to protest is a fundamental freedom protected by the French Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, the Conseil d’Etat found that a general and absolute prohibition on political demonstrations was not justified by the current circumstances. A protest may be prohibited under certain circumstances, however, such as if social distancing cannot be maintained, more than 5,000 participants are expected, or there is a risk to public order. Apart from political demonstrations, no event with more than 5,000 people will be allowed until August 31, 2020.

While a sense of normalcy is gradually returning to France, the country nevertheless remains in a state of health emergency. This state of emergency is set to expire on July 10, 2020, but the government is seeking to adopt legislation that would extend certain aspects of it past that deadline. A bill to that effect was adopted by the National Assembly on June 17, 2020. However, the Senate refused to vote for the bill as submitted, instead adopting fourteen amendments that substantially changed it.

The Senate’s main objection to this bill was that it extended some restrictions on civil liberties, in particular on the rights to travel and to participate in mass demonstrations, until October 30. Having been substantially amended by the Senate, the bill will next be discussed by a joint commission of the Senate and the National Assembly, which will be tasked with finding a common draft that both chambers can accept.