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‘A lifeline for small towns’ – France keeps building cinemas despite Covid

The coronavirus pandemic might not seem like the obvious time to build new movie theatres, but in cine-mad France, it will take more than a virus to dampen passions for the big screen.

'A lifeline for small towns' - France keeps building cinemas despite Covid
Cinemas in France have been closed for months due to the health crisis. Photo: AFP

The town of Romorantin, deep in the Loire Valley south of Paris, has a population of 17,000 – which by French standards, makes it ripe for a new multiplex cinema.

On a recent morning, forklifts were whirling as workers rushed to complete the five-screen theatre by the end of March.

It is not the only one. France saw 22 new cinemas open their doors in 2020, despite theatres being unable to operate for much of the year.

Several more are under construction or being renovated.

France, the birthplace of moving pictures, has almost always had the highest cinema attendance in Europe.

Even though attendance was down two-thirds last year thanks to 23 weeks of closures and the cancellation of many Hollywood blockbusters, the country weathered the disruption better than most – in part because it could still rely on its prolific, homegrown movie industry.

Parisian cinema lovers are hoping that the capital's many small movie theatres may soon reopen. Photo: AFP

France is also known for its network of tiny independent cinemas dotted across its villages and small towns.

Some are beautifully quaint – but struggling to attract the next popcorn-guzzling generation.

READ ALSO: Eight great French films to watch over the holidays

The new multi-million-euro Cine Sologne complex in Romoranti is being built in an out-of-town car park, and replaces the old Palais in its medieval centre, which attracted some 70,000 spectators a year but lacked the technology and comfort needed to rival home cinema offerings.

“We have to attract people who want to go to the cinema, but look at these small, local theatres and think, 'No thanks',” said Cedric Aubry, head of the construction firm.

He specialises in bringing shiny new complexes to remote locations not considered worthwhile by the major chains.

This is his fourth cinema construction since the pandemic began, and he says the model is working, with similar remote projects in places like Meuse and Yonne as much as tripling local attendance.

READ ALSO: Why the French passion for dubbing films shows no sign of dying out

The planned programme of a closed Parisian movie theatre. Photo: AFP

'Lifeline'

For a town like Romorantin, still reeling from the closure of a car plant and devastating floods over the past couple of decades, such projects are indispensable, said mayor Jeanny Lorgeoux.

“It's a crucial lifeline for a small town,” he told AFP. “It's a social link with others, between generations, and an economic boost.”

Since the factories disappeared from this region, cinemas have become a rare place where the remnants of the working class rub shoulders with the Loire Valley's “chateau and hunting” set.

Aubry agrees, and raises the 'yellow vest' protests that spread across rural France in 2018 and 2019.

“The message was that people felt abandoned out in the provinces. It's a modest response, but clearly among the 2,000 cinemas of France, many are in dire need of renovation and transformation.

“The cinema is often, especially in small towns, the last important cultural place that still appeals to all people,” said Aubry – and it helps to have five screens that can show the latest Fast and Furious alongside an existential drama starring Isabelle Huppert.

As for the pandemic? “That's no reason to give up,” he said.

Far from it: “This crisis has only reinforced how much we miss being around other people.”

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COVID-19

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.

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