France’s lower house of parliament has given the green light for an extension to the controversial emergency health law, which would allow the government to maintain restrictions related to the Covid-19 epidemic until at least 31 March 2021. The text is now to head to the Senate for approval.
After seven hours of heated debate, MPs in the National Assembly voted 26 in favour of the health emergency bill in the early hours of Friday morning.
It allows for the government to control movement of people and vehicles and impose travel restrictions such as tests for visitors arriving in France, and a limitation on the number of people allowed at public gatherings.
A slippery slope
“We share the concern of our fellow citizens and the government in this crisis, but this text goes too far and for too long,” said Republican minister Philippe Gosselin, noting that the extended bill could affect local and regional elections in March next year.
The far-right and far-left also voiced reservations over the extension of the emergency health bill until March 2021.
Ministers from the hard-left France Unbowed party (France Insoumise) said such a bill “was not necessary”, with communists also warning against “getting addicted to the loss of basic rights”.
The debate was overseen by Claire Hédon, the national mediator on rights issues who also warned against any move that would “disproportionately affect” human rights and freedoms.
Among the majority ruling party LaREM, some ministers argued for more flexibility with regards to the restrictions, in particular with regards to nightclubs – closed since March – which has been described as a form of “punishment for the youth” by Christophe Blanchet, from the centrist party (MoDem).
Isabelle Florennes (MoDem) also expressed concern that the bill would act like a “Trojan horse”, enabling attacks on personal freedoms.
The spike in the number of cases in recent days has prompted the government to place 11 cities, including Paris and Lyon, on "heightened alert" status, meaning bars and restaurants must close at 10pm and sports clubs must close completely.
Tougher restrictions were imposed on the Aix-Marseille and Guadeloupe regions, including total closure of bars and restaurants for at least 15 days.
French health minister Olivier Véran said on Thursday that Paris and its inner suburbs may face the same fate as of Monday if the number of infections doesn’t start to go down.