A Year of Covid in France

How time flies! It’s now just over a year since an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died in a hospital in Paris, and achieved the grim distinction of being the first Covid-19 fatality in Europe. Here’s what happened over the following 12 months.

The man had arrived in France as a tourist from China with his daughter and spent two weeks seriously ill in hospital before succumbing on Valentines’ Day to the effects of what was then the barely-understood Covid-19 virus. At the same time six people were in hospital in France with the virus – the Chinese tourist’s daughter and a group of British tourists who were infected by a compatriot at a French ski resort. France’s total Covid fatalities since the start of the pandemic are now over 80,000.

Here are some of the key numbers to convey the extraordinary year that followed that first death in France.

Health numbers

148 – within a month of the first patent dying in France, deaths had risen to 148 and France entered its first lockdown. The death toll continued to rise for several weeks after lockdown until the tough measures began to take effect and case numbers fell, followed by death rates.

Hospitalisation rates in France, showing the peaks in spring and autumn followed by lockdowns

On 16th March, the day before the country locked down, the official toll of Covid patients was 6,600, but with no widespread testing at that point, the true figure was undoubtedly much higher.

987 – the highest single-day death toll was recorded in April, when 987 Covid patients died. Earlier in the month the daily toll had topped 1,000 but this included data from several weeks earlier from nursing homes, which initially had trouble providing accurate daily death tolls as they were hit hardest by outbreaks of the virus.

7,000 – the highest number of Covid patients in intensive care in France. Pre-pandemic, the total intensive care capacity for the country was 5,100 beds. This was rapidly increased, but health services still came under massive pressure in March and April, which saw some of the sickest patients transferred across the country in specially adapted TGV trains while others were airlifted to neighbouring countries.

The second wave of Covid, although still placing intense pressure on health services has thankfully not seen ICU numbers this high.

20,000 – Cases in France have been at what health chiefs describe as a ‘high plateau’ since December, with an average of 20,000 new cases each day. For the moment, the French government judges that a third lockdown is not necessary, but the numbers remain too high to consider reopening bars, gyms or cultural centres in the immediate future. Travel in and out of the country is also heavily restricted.


As it struggled to contain virus numbers and protect the health service, the government brought in the strictest population controls seen in France since World War II.

2 – France has, so far, seen two lockdowns. The first began on 17th March and saw the virtual shutdown of the country with schools closed and most workplaces shuttered until case numbers subsided and restrictions began to be gradually lifted from May.

As the situation worsened again in the autumn a second lockdown was imposed on 30th October although this time schools remained open, before being lifted briefly in time for Christmas. Many restrictions remain in place, however and bars, restaurants, cafés, gyms, theatres, cinemas, museums and tourist sites remain closed.

€135 – France’s health rules are strict and a number of previously-innocuous actions can land you a €135 fine, rising to €3,750 and six months in prison for repeat offences. For example, not wearing a mask in an indoor public space – or in the street in 400 communes – staying out past curfew, not having a correctly filled-in attestation permission form, visiting a bar or restaurant or gathering in large groups in a public place will garner you a fine.

6pm – The whole of mainland France is currently under a 6pm-8am curfew with the only people allowed to leave their homes at night those covered by the ‘essential reasons’ rules.

20.7 million police checks were made during the first lockdown, with 1.1 million fines issued, according to the Interior Ministry. Police checks and fines have continued in the months since, with 65,000 done on a single Saturday when the curfew rules were tightened.


The government’s first priority was to save lives, but the harsh health restrictions in place have also had a huge effect on the country’s economy.

9-10% – the Bank of France estimates that the country’s economy overall contracted by between 9 and 10% in 2020.

€61 billion – France’s tourist trade, which accounts for around 10% of the economy, was hard hit by travel restrictions and lockdowns, losing a total of €61 billion in 2020, according to official figures.

€100 billion – this is the budget that the French government has earmarked to provide aid, from loans for businesses to ‘partial unemployment’ payments to individuals who are unable to work because of the health restrictions. This is separate from the EU’s emergency budget of €750 billion.

Testing and tracing

As well as restricting the movement of the population, the French health system has also been involved a massive effort to, as the health ministry slogan puts it, ‘test, alert and protect’ the population.

€0 – the cost of a Covid test in France for people registered in the French health system. France and Denmark are the only European countries to make testing free in all circumstances, whether you have symptoms, need a test for work or travel or simply want to get tested as a precaution before visiting vulnerable relatives.

3 million – after a cautious start over the summer that saw long queues for testing centres and long waits to get results, France’s testing programme is now pretty efficient. In a single week before Christmas 3 million people were tested – many of whom got a test in advance of travelling to see friends and relatives over the festive period, an effort that was widely credited with France avoiding a ‘post-Christmas spike’ in cases.

12.9 people have downloaded the TousAntiCovid contact tracing app. France’s first tracing app saw pitiful download figures and was largely useless, so in the autumn it was relaunched to include handy stuff like a downloadable copy of the attestation permission form and the latest health data and experienced a much-improved take-up.

92% of contact cases are reached by authorities within 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. This covers both people alerted by the app and people contacted by assurance maladie personnel.

2.2 million – vaccines administered, of which over 600,000 were second doses. In what is emerging as a bit of theme, the French vaccination programme started off slowly with just a few hundred people vaccinated in the first weeks. It is now picking up speed though still lags behind many European countries and will need to speed up considerably if the country is to achieve its target of giving the vaccine to everyone who wants it by the end of the summer.

It’s not all bad….

Although few people would nominate 2020 as their favourite year, there were a few good things that happened.

8pm – during the first lockdown, 8pm was the time when people all over France leaned out of their windows to clap, cheer, bang pots and pans and generally show their appreciation for healthcare workers. For people who lived alone, the daily clap also provided an important moment of connection with other people.

28 – the law on paternity leave was changed, so fathers in France now get 28 days leave, up from 14 previously.

44% – that’s how much cycle traffic increased in France, as city dwellers increasingly shunned crowded public transport services and took to their bikes instead. The city of Paris saw a network of new coronapistes – temporary cycle paths – many of which have since become permanent.

So, that’s where we are at the start of half-term in France though sadly we’re faring much worse in the Alpes-Maritimes.

What about where you are?


55 Comments on “A Year of Covid in France

  1. UK don’t really need to say much more.

    The only thing the government have done right is vaccines, but then has now been used as a good reason for Brexit.

    Either way its a bit like saying Harold Shipman wasn’t too bad because he once saved someone’s life

    Liked by 4 people

      • Its the only thing he can hang his hat on in the last year, but even that is not great. Yes we have vaccinated 15.5 million people with the first dose, second dose it just have half a million. Also here in the UK we can get free Covid testing, depending on how honest you want to be 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Things have gotten better in the US since 20 January. Vaccinations are getting on track and our infection, hospitalization, and death rates are all receding. Most school systems seem about to open. Our lead Covid expert, Dr Fauci, is allowed to speak the truth. Now if winter would make way for spring…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We’re in our third lockdown and in the middle of our 3rd wave in Ireland. Our 2nd lockdown was a half hearted affair that many at least partially ignored. That combined with a lifting of many restrictions leading up to Xmas and the emergence of more virulent variants has led to a massive increase in cases, hospitalisations and unfortunately, deaths. There were more positive cases in January than in the whole of 2020! Numbers are now starting to decline again but lockdown looks set to last until at least Easter. Hopefully schools will start to reopen before that but there is some resistance to this.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. And the Chinese continue the parties lol Now even the WHO says came from an animal then retracted as not sure !!! And what the lowly French govt does not tell is most still open are subsidies which eventually will run out and then what? Glad to be in retirement next month ::)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. We’ve had 670 deaths in our small county on the southeast corner of Wyoming that holds our capital, Cheyenne.  People here still don’t wear masks everywhere and small businesses are dying out. My daughter has locked me down practically from any outside activities except a doc visit.  We have medical and first responders in immediate plus three vulnerable family so all are careful.  I could take the curb to curb bus but where would I go?  😃

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Denmark has as per ECDC had 2216 deaths because of Corona so far, that is nearly as much as during the influenza epidemic in 2017/2018. Denmark has actually had less overall deaths (all causes) in 2020 than during the same period 2019. Also in Denmark, most of the Corona related deaths are the elderly 65 and upwards, worst the 80 and upwards. So overall Denmark is not as hard hit as other countries, only economically. Many small businesses are bankrupt and many people lost their jobs.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I had forgotten that bit about last spring when they were using specially adapted TGV trains to transport patients to different parts of France. Are they still doing that?
    Here in Germany most things are still closed (restaurants, theatres, hairdressers, etc.) but there is no curfew and no restriction on how far from home I can ride my bicycle. The big development for me is that last Saturday I got my first vaccination (BioNTech), with the second scheduled for March 6th.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As far as I’m aware they’ve moved some patients around to spread the load. Everything’s closed here too but I can cycle as far as I want, which is something. Delighted to hear you’ve had your first hab.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a difference a year makes Sheree! Here in the USA the things that stand out for me is the death rates, hospitalizations (my daughter an ICU nurse), the closing of SO many businesses, trouble finding toilet paper (still don’t understand that one), food items and cleaning supplies.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. We just had the vaccine arrive in Australia yesterday and vaccinations will be rolling out on Monday starting with our health care workers and the like. Then it will be the elderly and people with chronic illness in April.

    Thank you for the detailed account of where things are at in France. We dont really hear much these days about what is happening overseas.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I find the curfews very interesting Sheree. You probably know everything is pretty much shut here – all non-essential retailers and hospitality etc are shut. Maybe there are some rule breakers travelling to each other’s homes in the evening? We see reports of police breaking up large parties etc. I just wonder if here in the UK a curfew would make any difference or just antagonise some people.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. The slow roll out of the vaccine has been frustrating but I do get why. Logistics plus monitoring the effects of those who have been tested is a huge undertaking. Being patient isn’t easy but there’s really no choice. 😕

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I find quite admirable some non-Western cultures’ general belief in and practice of not placing their aged family members in seniors care homes.

    The rightful result is that family caregivers don’t have to worry over those loved-ones being left vulnerable by cost-cutting measures taken by some care-home business owners to maximize profits.

    As for care-home neglect, it was present here in Canada before Covid-19; however, we didn’t fully comprehend the degree until the pandemic really hit, as we horrifically discovered with the CHSLD Résidence Herron in Dorval, Quebec, about 10 months ago.

    Western business mentality and, by extension, collective society, allowed the well-being of our oldest family members to be decided by corporate profit-margin measures. And our governments mostly dared not intervene, perhaps because they feared being labelled as anti-business in our avidly capitalist culture.

    But, as clearly evidenced by the many needless care-home resident Covid-19 deaths, big business does not always know or practice what’s best for its consumers, including the most vulnerable with little or no voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Such a large number and it still continue . I Pray for the soul to rest them peace , but loosing hope is not an option . Still we have to survive.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Such a huge number of deaths.i pray for them to rest in peace. still this thing is continuing but loosing hope is not an option.we have to survive.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I shutter to think what these numbers would be in Italy. With my comune now going back into the orange zone, it seems like a never ending back and forth.

    Liked by 1 person

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