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?