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France: Administrative And Medical Response To COVID-19 Pandemic

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France: Administrative And Medical Response To COVID-19 Pandemic

ILLUSTRATIVE IMAGE

As of April 16, 2020, France had:

  • 165,027 infections (an increase of 17,164 from the total reported on April 15)
  • 31,305 were hospitalized;
  • 32,812 discharged;
  • 17,920 deaths (increase of 753);
  • 6,248 were in intensive care.

France officially introduced quarantine on March 17 for 15 days. On March 27 it was extended to April 15. On April 13, the lockdown was extended until May 11.

I.1. Administrative and other measures adopted by the government

1.1. Administrative measures:

State of emergency was introduced due to the threat to health, which means a ban on movement with exceptions listed below, and even then only with a pass or a statement of the purpose fo travel (it must be filled out by hand by every citizen upon leaving home):

  • Trips between home and work, if working from home is impossible. Employer must sign trip pass.
  • Shopping for necessary food and other necessary products, travel necessary to obtain social benefits or withdraw cash from ATMs, at institutions which are allowed to remain open.
  • Medical consultations and care after patients which cannot be rendered remotely or postponed.
  • One may leave home for a walk for no more than an hour and no further than 1km in order to engage in sport, including running, or providing exercise to house pets. One may leave alone or in company of people who share the quarantine. Group training is prohibited.
  • In order to answer a court or administrative summons.
  • Participation in community activities when requested by administrative bodies.

As of March 14, the following are officially closed: concert and conference halls, shopping centers, restaurants, cafes, bars (take-out only), dancing and sports halls, libraries, exhibition halls, enclosed sports complexes, museums. The remainder must organize their work remotely.

1.2. Economic measures

The government adopted the following packet of measures in order to support the economy.

Postponing utility and tax payments

For example, URSSAF payments (organization for the collection of social security and family benefits dues, a range of private organization which fulfill the role of a state service by collecting funds for the common social safety net) may be delayed by up to 3 months. Some 380,000 businesses with no fewer than 50 workers have already took advantage of it. As of April 10, the total sum of delayed payments reached 3 billion euro, out of 9 billion which should have been collected. This sum pertains to small businesses which were to make their payments by March 15. Large businesses were to make them by April 5. Self-employed, not including individual entrepreneurs, who were supposed to make payments by March 20 and April 5 are relieved of that duty.

  • Businesses may ask the tax service to delay advance tax payments without penalty (the advance tax payment for corporate tax and income tax). Self-employed may at any time get a postponement for the necessary period of time, and ask for their rate to be lowered. In addition, one may delay one’s advance payments for one month for up to three times, if advance payments are monthly, or by a quarter if they are quarterly.
  • Firms may use the accelerated corporate tax credit and VAT return procedure. Firms which received one or more tax credits which are to be returned in 2020 may request compensation for the remainder of their debt after they are calculated against their corporate tax for the 2019 fiscal year, without waiting until the formal tax return. This mechanism is used with all tax credits which are to be returned in 2020.  In order to have VAT returned, the firm should file an electronic application directly from its office or through an authorized partner. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, VAT credit compensation is processed in the most expeditious way possible.
  • Firms which face difficulty in paying their taxes due to the virus may request a deferred payment plan. Firms which find themselves in a difficult situation may also request relief from direct taxation (for example,  income tax, territorial economic dues). These applications are processed individually, depending on the financial state and difficulties of the firm in question.

Utilities and Rent

  • On March 17, President Emmanuel Macron announced delay in rent, water, and electricity payments for small firms in difficult situation. Small firms which are entitled to participate in the state- and region-financed solidarity fund (see the next chapter of economic measures) may defer their rent, water, electricity, and gas payments.
  • Collecting rent and utilities payments is stopped as of April 1, and for the entire period of inactivity. Once business activity is resumed, these payments will be deferred or spread without interest due, on terms dependent on the state of the firm.
  • In the case of small and medium firms whose activities stopped, these measures will be adopted automatically, regardless of their condition. Those firms who have not shut down or reduced workforce, their state will be studied on individual basis, depending on their economic situation.
  • France has a winter period during which landlords may not end rental agreements without the renter’s agreement. In 2020, this period has been extended until May 31.
  • The period during which electricity, water, and gas providers may not end service or terminate contracts due to non-payment has been extended from March 31 until May 31.

Additional Payments

  • The national government and regions have created and are financing a solidarity fund for small enterprises worst affected by the crisis. Communes and large firms may also contribute to it. Insurance companies already announced a 200 million euro contribution. Each payment may be up to 1,500 euro per firm. It may be issued to self-employed, small firms, micro-firms with no more than 10 workers, 1 million euro worth of business as well as annual profit of less than 60,000 euro, which have suffered income loss of at least half in March 2020, in comparison with March 2019. In the most severe cases (inability to pay debts due within 30 days and inability to secure credit), additional support of 2,000 euro may be extended to firms with at least 1 worker in order to prevent bankruptcy. Applications are available from regional and state institutions at the regional level
  • The government also introduced an emergency support plan for start-ups, with 4 million euro available. It is intended to address specific start-up problems.
  • In order to support students, the state is assigning an additional 10 million euro to finance special aid programs conducted by the Crous university centers.

Crediting where the state acts as guarantor

The state has assigned 300 billion euro for bank loans where it acts as guarantor. All banks which are members of the Federation of French Banks have, jointly with Bpifrance (Banque Publique d’Investissement) launched a scheme under which the state will guarantee loans for the sum total of 300 billion euro, which is about 15% of France’s GDP.

During the period of March 25 through December 31, 2020, firms of any size, regardless of their legal character (including corporations, commercial firms, associations, craftsmen, funds, micro-firms, and farmers), with the exception of real estate firms, credit firms, and financial companies, may turn to their bank in order to obtain such credit.

The total credit may be as much as three months of income in 2019, or two years of total salary for innovation firms or firms started after January 1, 2019. No loan repayment is required during the first year, the firm may decide to amortize the credit for up to five years.

Credits are guaranteed by the state up to 70-90%, depending on the size of the firm. Thus banks retain some of the risk associated with the loan. Firms with fewer than 250 workers and less than 1.5 million euro of annual turnover, and also with fewer than 5,000 woerkers and 1.5 billion euro annual turnover, state guarantee is 90%. If the firm has more than 5,000 workers and turnover of more than 1.5 billion euro: turnover of less than 5 billion euro–80%, more than 5 billion euro: 70%.

The credit guaranteed by the state may not exceed 25% of the total volume of sales during a 2019 quarter or the last complete fiscal year. There is an exception for newly formed or innovative firms, where that ceiling is set at two years.

Applications by big firms (over 5,000 workers or more than 1.5 billion euro in turnover) which meet state credit eligibility criteria are considered individually by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. If there is a credit event in the two months followign the issuance of credit, state guarantee may not be used.

Credit intermediation in negotiations with banks on reassignign bank credits

Credit intermediation represents state aid to any firm which exeriences problems with one or more finance firms (banks, creditors, factoring companies, credit insurers, etc.). It is available on the entire territory of France, thanks to the 105 credit intermediaries, namely Bank of France directors in metropolitan France, and directors of emitting institutions in overseas territories.

During the first 48 hours after application, an ombudsman establishes contact with the firm, after checking eligibility, and develops a plan of action. Any dispute may be transferred to the ombudsman for consideration, for example, late payments, services, or wrong goods. The intermediary units the financial partners in order to eliminate conflict, offer solutions to all interested parties.

Methods of combating unemployment

Due to the scale of the crisis in health care caused by COVID-19, the government transformed the old payment system for partial employment benefits, which has given France the most protected system in Europe. Prior to the transformation, the payment was one-time and was limited to 7.74 euro per hour, state assistance paid to the firm is now proportional to the workers’ income up to 4.5 minimum wage. Moreover, minimum payment is set at 8.03 euro per hour.

This change in the method of calculating underemployment benefit shoudl help the problem of rise in unemployment caused by the crisis. It will allow firms to avoid lay-offs, preserve qualified workforce, and the workers to retain jobs.

Firms which are reducing or shutting down activities should provide their workers with underemployment benefits. Firms may apply through the Ministry of Labor web site in order to receive state aid. In addition, starting on March 16, Ministry of Labor announced that firms have 30 days to apply underemployment benefits with retroactive effect.

The firm pays workers compensation equal to 70% of gross salary (or 84% of net salary). Minimum-wage workers receive 100% compensation. Firms will be fully compensated by the state for salaries up to 6,927 euro per month, which is 4.5 times more than minimum wage.

  • Some firms belonging to key sectors need staffing help to ensure further activity and preserve their dominant role in the country. There is a special platform for underemployed personnel looking for work.
  • Measures have been taken to implement the “temporary hire” procedure. Ministry of Labor proposes simplified standard agreements on services between firms, and on changes to the labor agreement. If the worker and both firms agree, furloughed workers may temporarily work at a firm that is short-staffed. The worker retains his job contract and 100% of salary paid by the original employer. Firm that is temporarily employing him will compensate the original firm for the salary.
  • Unemployment benefit term will be extended for those who are looking for work and who were not eligible after March 12, 2020.
  • The state and local authorities name coronavirus as a force majeure when it comes to state purchases.

The adopted measures extend to all of France’s territory, including overseas.

I.2. Supplemental administrative and economic measures undertaken by the regions:

Regions may introduce their own measures. For example, the central Ile-de-France region’s local authorities are responsible for:

  • supporting work from home for educational institutions
  • organizing transportation
  • supporting medical personnel and institutions by disbursing 10 million euro to purchase equipment and issue payments to personnel. Additional beds have been reserved for patients with the virus in dormitories, etc.
  • increasing the financial and material support of charitable institutions.
  • support of cultural entities
  • informing firms and their support, jointly with state government
  • support of agrobusiness in organizing food supplies
  • region Ile-de-France finances research on coronavirus and on vaccine, jointly with the state.

Grand Est is one of the regions with the highest spread of the virus (4,769 confirmed cases as of April 10). Local authorites also undertook additional measures:

  • support of regional firms

In addition to all state measures, the region and the Banque des territoires, departments’ council, and the EPCI (Établissement public de coopération intercommunale) created a fund to support associations, self-employed, micro-firms, and small business. The fund has at its disposal 44 million euro. It consists of deposits from the region’s inhabitants of 2 euro per person, and also payments by the EPCI and Banque des territoires.

The fund grants between 5,000 and 10,000 euro to firms with up to 10 workers. It may increase to 30,000 euro for non-commercial associations. A sone-time payment of up to 5,000 euro may be made to firms in areas of particular importance.

  • Regional autorities and the regional health care agency, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor, are disbursing 11 million euro in assistance to medical students mobilized together with medical workers. Thus durign the crisis student nurses may receive 1,400 euro a month, while paramedics 1,000 euro a month, whereas normally student nurses receive a bonus between 112 and 200 euro, while paramedics do not get it at all. This compensation started on March 26 and will be disbursed in April.
  • Support of students interns. Compensation for internship is sustained if the training that started before March 16 has stopped or is performed remotely (preservation of compensation until the planned conclusion of the main course of training). Support of expenses for child care (80-100 euro per month per child) if the training is performed remotely or if the intern is a nurse or a care-giver mobilized together with medical workers.
  • Individual support of sport and culture institutions.

City mayors have the right to expand anti-virus measures:

  • in some cities there is now curfew beween 8pm or 10pm and 5am: Montpellier, Nice, Perpignan, etc.
  • It is forbidden to visit public places such as the Bordeaux shoreline or the English embankment in Nice, the Seine embankment in Paris, etc.

I.3. Means and methods of control

Violations of self-isolation measures are punishable by fines:

  • 135 euro
  • 375 euro if the fine is not paid on time
  • repeat offenses within 15 days are punishable by a 200 euro fine, 450 if the fine is not paid.
  • prison term of six months and a fine of 3750 euro, if there are more than three violations in 30 days.

100,000 police and gendarmes are responsible for ensuring the quarantine is observed, there are stationary and mobile checkpoints, particularly at train stations and airports. According to Christophe Castaner, the Minister of the Interior, law enforcement issued 359,000 citations between March 17 and April 1.

II. Changes in criminological situation

A number of regions noted lowered crime. For example, Cavados saw robberies drop by 50% in comparison with similar period last year. Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, the deputy director of judicial police in the Gendarmerie Nationale, likewise noted a crime drop in the entire country. He claims there was a “reduction in law-breakers’ activities” ever since quarantine was introduced. He also underscored the “transition from traditional crime to new types of crime, due to social changes caused by the corona crisis”.

1. Property crimes:

Reduction of criminal activity is mainly due to reduction of mobility. Some crimes today are harder to carry out, for example, burglaries, since people are more likely to be home. But there are cases of fraud by people claiming to offer disinfection services. Reduction of robberies in homes contrasts with continued theft in workplaces and homes. Self-isolation leads to stores and firms becoming the target of criminals, both functioning ones and closed ones due to quarantine. Moreover, there are frequent cases of attacks on ATMs in various parts of the country.

Thieves are mainly targeting medical masks and antiseptics. The Orteza hospital had 1,000 masks stolen, Marseilles lost 3,600 masks, and 28,000 masks were discovered in Pantine. Sales of masks are often linked to people who have access to stores and do not abide by restrictions. In Upper Savoy, gendermes found 5,600 masks during a search, which were bought in a first aid firm that engaged in illegal sales.

Firefighters also claim that the situation has calmed down. There are fewer crashes on public roads, it seems. “Our operations have dropped by 20%”, says Colonel Vicent Nezan, the deputy director of the firefighting and rescue service.

Several departments announced cases of individuals claiming to be gendarmes who are stopping cars and attempting to levy fines.

One should also note the possibility of detecting crimes after self-isolation is lifted. When staying home, people might not have noticed things were missing, or have noticed but don’t want to go to a police station to file a report.

2. Property crimes linked with crimes against persons:

This type of crime has not been discussed in the media, which leads to the conclusion they remain rare.

3. Crimes against persons:

One of the main problems of law enforcement is the prevention of domestic violence. As of right now no increase has been noted, but measures have been taken. Particular attention is being paid to vulnerable demographics: women in bad relationships, children who may become victims of violence, and the elderly. For example, there is now a system of tracking potential female victoms who have already complained of violence. Police is attempting to maintain contact with them in order to be able to intervene if necessary. There was a case in Charente-Maritime of a woman being killed by her husband who then committed suicide. In Lo and Garonne, three men killed each other due to clash among neighbors. Causes are unknown, whether they are linked to the quarantine or an older quarrel.

4. Trends:

The quarantine reduced drug trade. Buyers can’t travel, dealer’s supply is spotty. Many drug purchases moved to darknet. Users no longer travel but rely on delivery from those dealers who have permits to leave home.

There are more and more sites which engage in illegal trade in prescriptions in order to obtain chloroquine or other preparations. There were cases of pharmacies and firms ordered masks for fictional firms, often abroad.

OCLAEPS, the service for combating violations of public health, is monitoring suspicious sales of COVID-19-related pharmaceuticals on the Internet.

It’s too soon to discuss cyber crime, but there undoubtedly exists a significant threat due to the panic caused by COVID-19. Since more and more people work on computers, often personal ones, without protection against spam and viruses, there are now ransomware attacks or phishing in order to steal data. They are camouflaged as email messages with detailed COVID-19 information or links to chloroquine. There are also “fake news” being spread about COVID-19.

Sources:

  • Le Télégramme (Bretagne), lundi 23 mars 2020 574 mots, p. 5IGE5, Bretagne. Délinquance : la donne a changé avec le coronavirus. Hervé Chambonnière
  • Aujourd’hui en France Edition Principale_Faits divers, jeudi 26 mars 2020 812 mots, «La gendarmerie est en alerte sur les trafics de chloroquine »
  • La Montagne Creuse Creuse Ouverture, mercredi 25 mars 2020 627 mots, « Moins de faits de délinquance et moins d’accidents depuis le début de la crise en Creuse »
  • Ouest-France Pays d’Auge Calvados, jeudi 26 mars 2020 565 mots, « Forte chute de la délinquance avec le confinement »
  • L’Est Républicain Faits-divers 54B, vendredi 27 mars 2020 609 mots, « Les enquêtes de la PJ continuent malgré le coronavirus »
  • 20 Minutes (site web) Société, jeudi 26 mars 2020 1368 mots Coronavirus : « Il y a un trafic d’ordonnances pour se procurer de la chloroquine », observe le général Jean-Philippe Lecouffe
  • Sud Ouest Toutes éditions lundi 23 mars 2020 480 mots, p. Gironde-C1_17 Béarn « La délinquance de rue en net recul »
  • Le Télégramme (Bretagne) lundi 23 mars 2020 574 mots, Bretagne « Délinquance : la donne a changé avec le coronavirus »

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