Lockdown latest from France

When France went into lockdown for the second time on 30th October, the President promised a review of the situation after two weeks. So, after a little more than two weeks of Lockdown II, where are we now?

Last week the Prime Minister said the county’s lockdown will continue unchanged for at least the next 15 days – and cafés, bars and gyms are likely to remain closed for longer. The second lockdown currently runs until 1st December, but the government said from the outset that it could be extended if the health situation so demanded.

‘Possible easing’ at beginning of December

Restrictions might be eased for non-essential shops but those first steps won’t include establishments receiving the public such as bars and gyms. Strict limits on trips outside of the home, and the need for permission forms (attestations), will be likely to continue. Thankfully what will also continue is the economic support to all the businesses that have been forced to close.

More police checks

Not all of us are playing by the rules. The PM has confirmed the enforcement of lockdown rules will be stepped up.

Numbers?

Latest data shows that 42,535 Covid-19 patients have died in France since the start of the pandemic – 10,516 of those deaths occurred after 1st October. Currently one person is hospitalised with Covid-19 every 30 seconds, and one person with the virus admitted into intensive care every 3 minutes. One of four deaths in France at present is from Covid-19. Hospital patient numbers have exceeded those at the peak in April.

The government has recently increased the number of intensive care beds from 5,800 currently to 7,700. All this  means postponing and cancelling other, less urgent, medical treatments.

                                               Photo: French government, screen shot France Info

Impact of Lockdown II

The PM confirmed the lockdown, a milder version of that imposed on the country in the spring, was having noticeable effects with a lowering of movement of people.

Including

  • 22% fewer commuter journeys
  • 55% fewer passengers on the Paris Metro
  • 45% of private-sector employees working from home for 3.7 days a week or more
  • 23% of private-sector employees worked at home full-time
  • 40% of public-sector employees (excluding teaching staff and policeforces) worked some days from home

What about Christmas?

Looking ahead to Christmas, the PM said that the government’s objective was to allow for “French family celebrations,” but Christmas would “not be as usual” this year, in particular:

It is not reasonable to hope for big parties gatherings of several dozen people, especially on New Year’s Eve.

He also confirmed that it was too early to say whether long-distance travel would be allowed over Christmas. However, in a poll for French newspaper Le Parisien, 71 percent of people said they would accept lockdown continuing over Christmas if necessary.

Schools

High schools (lycées) were given permission to move up to half of their classes online. Pupils must spend at least half of their time in the classroom, however, and a full timetable of face-to-face teaching “is preferred”. The exact details of how much teaching goes online is up to each individual establishment, so will vary from place to place. Younger children in collège, élémentaire or maternelle will continue to attend school full time.

Let’s now look at some key dates:-

Mid-December: Throughout both lockdowns, the government has been reviewing the measures on a fortnightly basis, so it’s likely that we will get some sort of review and possible relaxation of the rules in the middle of December.

The government will also have to make a decision about the rules over Christmas by this date, in particular whether to allow trains to run a fuller service over the holiday period – at present SNCF is running only 30% of its normal long-distance services.

25th December: The government says it’s likely that at least some lockdown rules will still be in place by Christmas, meaning a muted celebration this year.

16th February, 2021: The current State of Health Emergency runs out. The official state of emergency does not in itself have any effect on regulations, but the designation allows the government to impose sweeping restrictions on daily life – such as lockdown – and also reduces the need for parliamentary debate. If the French parliament agrees, the emergency designation can be extended from this date.

March 2021: Despite promising news of a vaccine from a joint enterprise between US giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech, the jab is not expected to hit the streets of France immediately. Asked about the vaccine, French health minister Olivier Véran sounded a note of caution, saying:

We have not yet had access to all the data. We are preparing to start a vaccination campaign as soon as possible, provided that we have a guarantee that the vaccine is effective and safe.

The head of the EU’s health agency said that if all the trials are completed satisfactorily, the vaccine could start to be rolled out in the first quarter of 2021, echoing World Health Organisation sources who were also quoted saying that March was a likely start date.

Any roll-out of the vaccine would begin with the groups particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 – the elderly (not us) and the those with chronic health conditions.

So it’s not all bad news. Longtime readers of my blog will know I am not at all keen on “family” Christmases and, let’s be honest, I’m not the only one. I am hoping that I’ll be back on my bike, on the open roads within the next two weeks.

Lockdown latest from France

At the end of last week, the French Prime Minister extended the night-time curfew to another 38 new départements to cover roughly half of France (46 million inhabitants), red on the map below, including where I live in the Alpes-Maritimes. In total 54 of the country’s 96 mainland départements are now on a night-time curfew. The areas covered grey on the map (below) currently have no curfew in place.

The curfew runs from 9pm to 6am and during that time we’re only allowed out of our homes for essential reasons and we must carry a self-certified permission form stating our reason for being out.  Of course, this is in response to a worsening health situation in France with spiralling numbers of cases and an increasing number of hospitals reporting that intensive care units are filling up with Covid-19 patients.

However even non-curfew zones still have restrictions in place. The ‘rule of six’ on gatherings in private spaces extends to the whole country, although this is a government recommendation rather than an actual rule so we won’t have gendarmes knocking on our door to count our dinner lunch guests.

Masks are still compulsory in all public enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport, while most towns and larger cities (including most of Alpes-Maritimes) have also made them compulsory on the street. Distressingly for my beloved, gyms and swimming pools have once again closed.

Over the weekend France set a new daily record for coronavirus infections with 52,010 recorded in 24 hours, topping 50,000 for the first time. France has also passed the symbolic marker of one million confirmed Covid cases since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, 17% of those tested for the virus now have positive results, up from 4.5% in early September.

Where do we go from here?

On Friday, President Emmanuel Macron said it was too early to say whether a new lockdown was looming, after such a move was imposed nationwide for two months in the spring. Local mayors have also cautionned that further restrictions may have to be put in place.

Since the easing of the first lockdown in May, the French government has repeatedly stressed that the economic and psychological impact of the two months of near-total confinement was too heavy for such drastic measures to be re-introduced.

But as the country’s virus rates continue to spiral, several hospitals in hard-hit areas of the country have sounded the alarm that their establishments are in danger of being overloaded with new patients and asked that the government take tougher measures.

Intensive care rates best indicate the gravity of the Covid-19 situation in the country, because they are the last figure to rise before deaths and highlight the impact of the epidemic on hospitals and the overall health system. France has reported over 200 new admissions into intensive care units per day the past week. On Saturday the country counted 2,491 Covid-19 patients in its intensive wards, much less than during the peak of the first wave of infections in early April (7,019 patients), but more than enough for hospitals to worry about the weeks to come as numbers rise exponentially.

Previously the prime minister had said that the only lockdowns the government would consider were localised ones that targeted the areas suffering the most from the virus. But that was back when the general understanding was that the hardest battles against virus would be fought in the country’s densely populated cities, not in France at large.

The government, health authorities and indeed all of us in France are waiting to see the impact of the curfew on infection rates, but for now the numbers are only rising. Fortunately though, in terms of the number of Covid-19 patients dying, the situation is not as extreme as back in April. France’s daily death toll has been on a level of around 150 per day, compared to over 500 per day in early April. The other statistics are also beginning to accelerate but remain far, far below the levels seen in the spring.

It may be that in order to curb the spread, France introduces either a much stricter and longer nationwide curfew or a second lockdown. Many experts have warned against reopening secondary schools, high schools and universities after the autumn break. What is almost certain is that there will be further measures, whether nationwide or in certain hard-hit areas.

What does this all mean?

I’ll be honest, it makes very little difference to us though I am concerned about the local economy despite the support the government has put in place. Our Domaine is still (thankfully) Covid-free quite possibly because we’ve all been very law-abiding. But clearly others have not. Yes, more widespread testing identifies more cases but that doesn’t account for the rapidly filling hospital beds.

France’s neighbours are all adopting similar strategies. There’s little we can do other than continue to abide by the rules and support local businesses.

Tell us what’s happening where you live?

Pandemic in France – latest

Although I live in one of the so-called “red-zones” in France, life goes on as before. Everywhere I go, I wear a mask. I try to restrict the number of outings I make by shopping once a week though we do try to have a day, or afternoon “out” each week. The Domaine where I live has (thankfully) remained Covid-free which is fortunate as it does have a largely elderly population – you do know that doesn’t include us – and we’ve had a significant number of visitors/holiday makers during July and August.

But, if we look at France as a whole, with nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases in one day, the country has broken a grim record of infections. So how bad are things really?

The virus continues to accelerate its spread, stated Santé Publique France’s most recent weekly report, published on last week on 10 September.

Here is a look at the latest key numbers.

  • 9,843 – new Covid-19 cases recorded in the last 24 hours on Thursday, 10 September, the highest number recorded since France began its mass-testing of the population.
  • 47,294 – the number of people who tested positive in France this week, up from 36,785 last week.
  • 20% – the increase in positive cases since last week. The growth rate seems to have slowed down since last week, when the total number of cases grew by 32 % on the previous week.
  • 902,815 – the total number of tests last week, slightly down from 1,059,303 the previous week.
  • 14.4 – the number of days it takes for the total number of cases to double (up from 13.8 days, which could indicate that the virus is spreading at a slightly slower rate).
  • 5.4% – the percentage of total tests that brought back a positive result, referred to as “positivity rate.” The rate grew from 4.9% the previous week. In early August it was 1.8%.
  • 52.7% – roughly half the people who test positive have either no symptoms or very mild ones.
  • 75 and above – the age group seeing the fastest increase in the number of new infections the past week.
  • 4,960 – the total number of Covid-19 hospital patients. While hospitals have seen patient flow increase, the total number of hospitalised patients remains low compared to the height of the pandemic in mid-April when over 32,000 people were hospitalised for Covid-19.
  • 574 – the total number of patients receiving intensive care treatment, up from 480 last week. This is the number that that authorities nervously watch as it is the best indicator of future death rates. The next few weeks will be a important as public health authorities fear that the high number of younger people infected will in turn infect older people who are more likely to become seriously ill.
  • 47% – nearly half of the total intensive care patients were either in the greater Paris Île-de-France region (35 percent) or the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region (17 percent).
  • 19 – the latest recorded number of Covid-19 fatalities, up from 3 last week.
  • 42 – there are now 42 (up from 28) départements defined as ‘red zones’ by the health ministry, including two overseas départements. These are defined as areas where the virus circulation is active and more than 50 new cases per 100,000 people have been reported in the last seven days. Local authorities in red zones are given extra powers to impose restrictive measures if necessary.
  • 692 – the number of clusters currently being investigated by health authorities, up from 528 last week.

The French government was expected to announce new measures last Friday to stem the spread but there were none, just an acknowledgement that Covid-19 was putting ever greater pressure on hospitals and intensive care units. PM Castex did ask authorities in the hotspots of Bordeaux and Marseille to present suggestions to him to tackle the flaring rates in their areas, but did not announce any major moves to intervene to curb the spread.

After having been criticised in the spring for being “too centralised and monolithic in their response, it seems they now intend to leave each region or large city – the local prefect or government representative, not mayors or local politicians – take locally appropriate measures.

Despite condemnation from many quarters, an epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, said the government was right to remain prudent and refrain from going back to sweeping, general decisions. He further added:

I think it’s good that they have chosen a solution where they don’t take the same decisions everywhere. It shows that they have listened to the public opinion.

You can’t really argue with that, can you?

Lockdown loosening in France

France moved into the second phase of its loosened lockdown restrictions last Tuesday, 2nd June – so what changes did that bring to our everyday life?

France began to loosen its strict lockdown from 11th May, but encouraging data on the virus circulation meant that from 2nd June the country moved to the next phase of the plan which will last until 22nd June and returns life to a state where, according to the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe:

……freedom will, finally, be the rule and restriction the exception.

As with all stages of France’s lockdown plan, this comes with the caveat that restrictions could be reimposed if the health situation worsens. Plus, local authorities retained the power to impose extra restrictions in their area.

So what changed?

The map of France divided into green and orange zones for phase 2

                                Map: Santé Publique France

France is now divided only into two zones where the vast majority of the country is coloured green – showing a low circulation of the virus. Unsurprisingly, the exception is the greater Paris Île-de-France region, which is coloured orange to show higher levels of the virus, along with the overseas départements of French Guyana and Mayotte. Orange zones naturally have more restrictions than green ones.

Bars, cafés and restaurants

These could reopen from 2nd June, having been closed by government order since 15th March. There are a lot of hygiene restrictions for owners to abide by, including spaces of at least one metre (3 feet) between tables, and in orange zones – including Paris – only outdoor terraces can reopen.

We went out for coffee on the Tuesday to one of our usual hangouts and things were quiet, almost deadly quiet. However, it was only day one and many places close anyway on Tuesdays. Friday we went out for lunch at our favourite local restaurant and it was reasonably busy, about 50% of their normal trade and all regulars.

The 100km rule

This rule was scrapped and people can now travel freely around France for any reason, without the need for a self-certified form (attestation). The second week of half-term saw a number of French holiday makers in their second-homes in the Domaine – good news.

Seats of learning

The gradual reopening of schools was accelerated, with all infant, primary and secondary schools able to re-open.  Maximum class sizes remain, however, so many pupils will only be attending for part of the week. High schools (lycées) will only reopen in the green zones and universities will continue with online teaching.

Parks, beaches and gardens

These have now all reopened though it’s down to individual local authorities on whether masks are compulsory in parks, beaches and gardens.

We had a picnic on the beach on Saturday evening. It was the usual crowd and we may have just numbered 2 x 10, including dogs and children. It was so nice to catch up with everyone’s news in person and we’ll be getting together like this on a regular basis.

Gyms and swimming pools

All gyms in green zones have reopened with those in orange zones scheduled to reopen on 22nd June. The same applies to swimming pools. Thank goodness my beloved can finally use the Domaine’s 50 metre, Olympic-sized outdoor pool.

Cinemas, theatres and museums

Theatres and museums have begun to reopen in green zones, while orange zones must wait again until 22nd June. Cinemas can reopen in the whole country as of 22nd June. Wearing a mask will be mandatory in all these spaces.

What doesn’t change

While life in general looks and feels a lot freer, there are still restrictions in place.

  • Those who can work from home are asked to continue to do so
  • Masks remain compulsory on public transport and shops can require their customers to wear masks – all our shops and shopping centre require masks to be worn
  • Gatherings in a public place are still limited to a maximum of 10, although there is no restriction on gatherings in private residences
  • Contacts sports remain banned and professional sports such as rugby and football are not expected to restart before September
  • Nightclubs and music venues remain closed
  • The rules on international travel remain in place, with entry into France heavily restricted. This is not expected to change before 15th June.

What else?

The annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris on 14th July 14 will be replaced with a much smaller tribute to health workers. However, the football authorities are hoping the postponed French Cup final could still go ahead before a limited number of spectators in Paris. While both domestic Cup finals, postponed in April, may now be staged in August just before the planned start of next season.

The government hopes to further ease restrictions from 22nd June, and the second round of voting for the country’s municipal elections, originally set for March, are now planned for 28th June.

10 Lockdown Learnings

It’s #deconfinement +1 but very little has changed, largely thanks to the weather. After weeks of largely glorious weather our gradual release from lockdon was heralded by torrential rain and, weather wise, a rather mixed forecast until almost month-end. This, of course, may be fortuitous and ensure that no one oversteps the mark and there are no further outbreaks of COVID-19 warranting a return to lockdown.

Being confined to base for over two months has thrown up some powerful home-truths. Here are ours:-

1. For us it was pretty much same old, same old as we’ve worked from home for 15 years. We have an established routine, particularly during the week and we kept to that. Our daily rides were replaced with a combination of walks around our grounds, cycling on the home trainer, working out and yoga on the terrace. At the weekend,, cocktails on the terrace replaced our regular apéros while I recreated some of our favourite dishes in lieu of meals out. To be honest, it was fine. We’re so much more fortunate than many.

2. We’re both fairly low maintenance and didn’t really miss trips to beauty salons or the hairdressers. Indeed, the local hairdressers can heave a sigh of relief. I am patently not to be trusted with hair clippers. My beloved was in dire need of a hair cut as we went into lockdown. He’s follicly challenged and typically keeps it very short with a cut every three weeks, which includes a trim of his eyebrows.

A couple of weeks in and he was looking pretty disreputable with Dennis Healey eyebrows (former UK politician renowned for his incredibly bushy eyebrows)  – not good for all those Zoom conferences. I attempted to redress the problem and he ended up looking like a dog with mange – cue a hat. Fortunately my technique has improved but not enough that I’m going to make a habit of it! Unlike these boys, 8-time world champion Marc Marquez looks to be as equally adroit with the clippers as on two-wheels.

As an aside, I’ve been much amused at how top sportsmen and women hve been amusing themselves in lockdown from taking part in various challenges, training, working out and playing competitive games. I reckon time has hung more heavily on their hands.

3. We’ve lived here for over 15 years and while we frequently walked through our magnificent grounds, we’d never walked all around them. It was a revelation as we found areas we didn’t know existed and we got to watch Spring in all its glories unfold. Chatting to neighbours, at a responsibly safe distance, we discovered we weren’t the only ones.

4. In trying to keep to one weekly shop, in the last couple of days of the week I would find myself emulating the recently returned British Classic “ Ready, Steady, Cook” where chefs have to come up with meals from an odd assortment of ingredients. I often feel my best dishes are borne out of necessity rather than cookery books. The results can be found in current and future The Musette posts.

5. We’ve been quite content with one another’s company. We’ve checked on friends, neighbours in isolation and family at regular intervals but didn’t feel the need to indulge in virtual aperos, pub quizzes or karaoke sessions with them. Consequently, we now know for sure that my beloved and I will survive retirement and old-age together so long as we have enough room to occasionally get away from one another and, of course, those all important separate bathrooms. I cannot stress enough the importance of the latter though, of course, for the time being I still have to don PPE every couple of days to clean his one.

6. This crisis has strengthened our resolve to remain in France and become French citizens. IMHO Monsieur Macron has excelled by comparison with other world leaders. You know who I mean, I don’t have to mention their names. We have our own company in France and we’ve been inundated with offers of financial assistance to ensure we can keep operating. Luckily for us, that’s not been an issue, but it’s nice to know it’s there should we need it.

7. My beloved husband loves being waited on hand and foot and has resolutely been as busy as possible during the pandemic to ensure that situation persists. His only contribution has been to invent a new cocktail! Our current deal, which expires at the end of the year, is that he shouldn’t make any more mess than usual. Well this has gone out of the window, big time. There’s not a corner of the apartment (except the kitchen) that he hasn’t colonised. He’s taken over my desk in the lounge leaving me to enjoy the office because I couldn’t hear myself think with all his Zoom conferences and webinars. In fact, he’s been so busy that there have been days where I’ve only seen him at mealtimes. Like he’s ever going to miss any of those!

8. I don’t have digits of doom! I wouldn’t claim to have green fingers either but our terrace garden of succulents is flourishing thanks to my regular attention. I’ve even added to our growing collection having successfully propogated a number of cuttings from plants I’ve found in the Domaine’s gardens. Given we’re not going to be straying too far from home this year (and next), I may consider getting some geraniums now the garden centres have re-opened.

9. We’ve watched far less television than we normally do (no sport) but haven’t found time to read any books. We’ve introduced a music only evening where I’ve been encouraging my beloved to make the most of his monthly subscription to Apple music by downloading tracks from lots of new artists aka ones I like. We’ll be doing this in future on a regular basis.

10. We’ll be taking our release from lockdown one step at a time. Firstly, when and if the weather improves, by going out for rides on our bikes. It’ll be so nice to feel with wind in our helmets again and see what’s changed in the past few weeks while we’ve been in our bubble. However, we’re not in any rush to get together with family (all in UK) or friends. There have been no reported incidences of COVID-19 in the Domaine and we’d like to keep it that way. We’ll continue to shop once a week, early on Saturday mornings.

What have you learned while you’ve been in lockdown? Are there any changes you’re going to make as a consequence?