Coronavirus: Emergency Health Bill Passed in Parliament

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The Assembly votes on the article on the state of health emergency. Adopted by a show of hands after several hours of discussion, the article provides that a state of public health emergency, which makes it possible to restrict public freedoms (confinement, requisitions, etc.), must be introduced as soon as the law comes into force and for two months. This article provides in particular for heavier penalties for repeated failure to comply with the confinement; exceptional measures, sometimes restricting freedoms.

The National Assembly voted on Saturday, March 21, the article of the bill against the coronavirus allowing the establishment of a "state of health emergency, after a fierce debate on the framework of this exceptional regime and the addition of penalties for non-compliance with containment. This state of public health emergency, which makes it possible to restrict public liberties (confinement, requisitions, etc.), was introduced as soon as the law came into force, and for two months. On the government's initiative, the Assembly has in particular reviewed the Senate's wording, which had listed the categories of measures possible under this regime.

Why create a state of health emergency?

The state of health emergency is a new system in France. The objective, according to the Prime Minister, is to give "clear and solid legal bases" to the measures taken by the government to deal with Covid-2019 - particularly with regard to general containment. The bill "is inspired by the existing law on the state of emergency of 3 April 1955", notes Le Parisien. These measures had been put in place, in particular, after the attacks of 2015.

But "the parallel stops there" according to the Prime Minister. Indeed, the executive preferred to create a specific mechanism for large-scale epidemics. " The tool did not seem relevant to us, including in the field of the functioning of democratic institutions, because we are not within the strict framework of the use of the state of emergency." explains a minister in Le Parisien, referring to the government's desire "not to create unfortunate jurisprudence".

What are the safeguards?

A state of a health emergency is a temporary measure. " It is put an immediate end to the measures (...) as soon as they are no longer necessary," the text states, according to La Cross. The government's field of action will be limited to "only those measures [that] will allow us to face the epidemic", Edouard Philippe assured at the end of the Council of Ministers. The senators thus "listed the categories" of measures that the government will be able to take in the framework of the state of a health emergency.

According to article 9 of the bill, "the National Assembly and the Senate shall be informed without delay of the measures taken by the Government during the state of health emergency". The two chambers may also "request any additional information within the framework of the control and evaluation of these measures".

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Last guardrail, reported by LCI the creation of a "Committee of Scientists" to publish "periodically its opinion on the measures taken pursuant to Articles 9 to 10". This committee will include "two qualified personalities respectively appointed by the President of the National Assembly and the President of the Senate and qualified personalities appointed by decree". Its chairman will also be appointed by the Head of State by decree.

Is this a first in France?

On 13 November 2015, following the attacks in Paris and Saint-Denis, a state of emergency was declared by the Council of Ministers on the night of 13 to 14 November and ended on 1 November 2017.

It was a law of 1955, adopted in the context of the Algerian war, which introduced this exceptional measure, which could be taken by the executive "in the event of imminent danger resulting from serious breaches of public order, or in the event of a public calamity".

However, the state of emergency is limited to twelve days and its extension must be authorized by Parliament. This new bill amends this aspect of the 1955 Act by extending the 12-day period to one month.

The bill, therefore, provides a legal framework to extend the containment system limiting travel for at least 15 days.

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