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 lingo

As France spends its second week in Lockdown II, let’s look at some of the technical terms that we’ve all had to become familiar with.

Attestation – This word (certificate) – already crucial to France’s true religion of bureaucracy – became central to life during Lockdown I. Une attestation de déplacement dérogatoire was required for every trip out. The word is commonly used in many other situations for example: une attestation du travail proves that you are in work while une attestation de domicile is proof of where you live.

Demeurant – The attestation form introduced us to some rather formal French vocabulary including demeurant. It simply means where you live ie your address.

Déclaration sur l’honneur – The attestation form does not require any supporting proof, so it is relying on you to tell the truth about where you are going. However the fact that you declare it is true and sign it makes it a déclaration sur l’honneur (declaration on your honour, more usually translated as an affadavit) which gives it a legal standing.

Déconfinement – Is scheduled for early December but no one really believes it’ll be the official end of lockdown (le confinement). You  can use it as a verb too – déconfiner.

Non-respect du confinement – Some have been breaking lockdown rules resulting in Lockdown II. Violation du confinement means the same thing.

Amende – If you get any of France’s lockdown rules wrong you are liable to une amende de €135 – a €135 fine. This ramps up steeply for repeat offenders leading to prison confinement.

Cluster – Borrowed from the English, this term has been used from the beginning of the epidemic to talk about the infection outbreaks. You may also hear about foyers de contamination.

Geste barrière – This refers to all those habits and social distancing measures that we’ve had to get used to to protect ourselves and others: wearing a mask, sneezing into your elbow, washing hands regularly, etc.

Télétravail – Everyone in France who can is currently on télétravail, and will probably continue to remain so for quite some time. I can tell you that it’s absolutely not the same as pretending to work while lolling around watching daytime television.

Dépistage – There has been a certain amount of controversy in the press over France’s coronavirus testing strategy, currently available at many of the medical laboratories. Pretty much every town has at least one.

TousAntiCovid –  This is the new contact-tracing app, previously named StopCovid, that the government relaunched in October. Aside from using Bluetooth to alert those who have come in contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, it also provides basic information on symptoms, case numbers and where you can get tested. And, yes I have downloaded the app.

Deuxième vague – France is firmly in the grip of a second wave of the coronavirus that is very different to the one experienced in March.

Réa – Short for lits de réanimation (intensive care beds), you may seen headlines talking about les paitents de Covid-19 rempliront les réas – Covid-19 patients are filling up intensive care beds. We’re up to about 85% at the moment.

Protocole sanitaire – All establishments, such as schools and shops, have had to follow a protocole sanitaire (health protocol) to stop the transmission of the virus. These are constantly changing. For example in schools, safety measures have been tightened and children above the age of six are now required to wear a mask, while only essential shops are now open.

Reconfinement – The ‘re’ prefix is incredibly useful in the French language: it can be added to create a completely new word to indicate repetition. However, reconfinement is not one the French were looking forward to adding to their vocabulary, seeing as what’s repeated here is the strict, nationwide lockdown that the country already experienced this spring.

But it’s not just the practical details that have had an impact, some (not us) have also needed to navigate some more subtle social codes during a highly stressful situation while trying not to tuer les voisins (kill the neighbours).

Bruit – Particularly applicable to those spending the lockdown in apartment blocks where a noisy neighbour can make your life a misery. If you have been a culprit, try a désolé pour le bruit (sorry about the noise) while if you need to make a polite request to shut up, use pourriez-vous réduire le bruit, s’il vous plâit (could you lower the noise please) on the first time of asking.

Egoïste – If you wish to mutter darkly about neighbours you believe to be breaking the rules, you could describe them as un connard égoïste – a selfish dickhead or une connasse égoïste – a selfish bitch.

Grosse balance – If you want to go further than muttering, you could report rule-breakers to the police. But you run the risk of being denounced as a grass. Balancer is the verb used for denouncing or exposing someone – as in balance ton porc (expose your pig) which is the equivalent of the Me Too hashtag in France. So if you suspect someone of sneaking, you could say tu es une grosse balance – you’re a big snitch.

I’m happy to report that our neighbours are delightful and have been following the recommended guidelines to the letter. Consequently, I’ve restarted my delivery of goody parcels, because many of my neighbours are:-

Personnes vulnérables – ‘Vulnerable persons’ are those who are elderly and those with pre-existing conditions that make them at risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus. They are also known as les personnes fragiles. Fortunately we’re neither.

But it’s not all been hatred and spying, for many lockdown has re-established what is truly important in life.

Les proches – If somebody has died you will frequently hear mes sincères condoléances aux familles et aux proches – my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones. Proche literally means close so in this content it means ‘those close to’ but better translates as loved ones. During the lockdown we have seen a lot of advice on most people’s main concern comment garder contact avec vos proches – how to keep in touch with your loved ones.

Apéro – Another great French love which we’ve truly embraced is the apéritif or pre-dinner drinks ritual. This has now moved indoors and online as an apéro Skype or apéro Zoom. In Lockdown II we’ve also moved onto dîner Zoom.

Rester en forme – While the Germans cheerfully coined a word to describe the weight gained during the first lockdown (coronaspeck – corona lard) the French media saw a proliferation of articles on how to restez chez vous, rester en forme – stay home but stay in shape. We’re still following their excellent advice.

Les sextos – I’m reliably informed that dating has become slightly tricky during lockdown so many are resorting to technology based-courting rituals instead. You will hear either le sexting or les sextos for the practice of sending saucy snaps by text message or other messaging platforms.

But much as I may like to pretend it’s all been reading Proust, sipping wine and sexting the hot neighbours, many have taken up a less glamourous – but highly French – hobby during lockdown. Complaining.

Râler – France understandably has a lot of words for complaining including the formal se plaindre which is the most frequently used, but you also have rouspéter, ronchonner, grommeler, grogner and maugréer which are variously equivalent of to moan, to grouse, to grumble or to bitch.

Ras-le-bol – When you have watched eveything on Netflix, read every book in the house and rearranged your sock drawer twice then you can exclaim J’en ai ras-le-bol de le confinement ! – I’m fed up of lockdown!

 

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?

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?

Life in Lockdown: Week 4

The other day at breakfast, my beloved looked at me across the table and said: “You could probably handle this for however long it lasts; maybe 12-18 months.” And you know what? He’s right. Let me explain why.

Firstly, we’ve worked from home for over 15 years and have things set up rather well – if I say so myself – particularly since we’ve now got WiFi all over, including the terrace. We work for a global client base and don’t really differentiate much between weekdays and weekends, and don’t get me started on Bank holidays. If you call, or contact us by phone, email or social media whenever, chances are we’ll respond fairly promptly, even if we’re on vacation.

Of course, my beloved husband of over 40 years typically travels a fair bit leaving me with some much welcome time alone. This has, of course, gone by the wayside. But, with plenty of personal space and, most importantly, our own bathrooms, we’re holding up well. Of course, I do have to don my PPE to regularly clean his, but that’s nothing new.

We have a routine which serves us well and which, during France’s lockdown, of necessity we’ve adjusted. Okay, so no nipping out for a bike ride. This daily constitutional now takes place on the terrace. We fit our rides in around my beloved’s conference calls, of which there are surprisingly many. We can’t both ride at the same time as someone has to man the phones etc, plus he’s lost – what a surprise – a couple of bits off of his home trainer and therefore borrows those bits from mine.

We work out before breakfast most days. Use or lose it is very apt at our age. He works an 8-10 hour day while I continue to work part-time and juggle abslutely everything else. Remember, there’s a reason he’s called « The Man Who Just Turns Up. »

As we work in the healthcare sector, we’re still very busy. Plus, from my administrative perspective, personal and corporate tax submission deadlines are looming, so there’s plenty to keep me occupied.

As Officer in Charge of Drinks (OCD), my beloved has been putting his undoubted, one might even say legendary, cocktail skills to good use. With the mercury rising, Friday through Sunday, you’ll find us enjoying them on the terrace as the sun slips beneath the horizon. He’s even invented a new one which, not unnaturally, we’ve christened the Corona Cocktail. I have no idea whether or not it would cure the virus but it’s pretty potent!

My beloved is taking his responsibility to keep in touch with everyone he knows pretty seriously. Who hasn’t he contacted would probably be an easier question to answer. What do you mean you haven’t heard from him? Don’t worry, he’ll connect with you at some point – and they say women talk! He’s also set up a couple of online communities to discuss common interests during the crisis.

Since we can’t watch any live sport or eat out at the weekends, we’ve turned our attention to the terrace. My succulents are positively flourishing from all the TLC. Maybe I don’t, after all, have digits of doom. The recent cuttings I’ve taken are starting to root and plants I thought were dead have risen like the Phoenix from the ashes. Of course, I might just smother them with all this attention.

Not being able to eat out means I have redoubled my efforts in the kitchen, trying out plenty of new recipes for his three square meals a day. I’m also only shopping once a week instead of daily, so necessity is frequently the mother of invention. There have been no complaints from him indoors but then he’d be very unwise to complain……….

While we cannot venture out into the wide, wide, world, other than for reasons for which we have to self-certify, for more than an hour at a time, we do have the luxury of the Domaine’s 27 hectacres to explore. It takes us almost 2 hours to walk the entire perimeter and we’re finding places we never knew existed, plus enjoying the flora and fauna. Of course, we’re not the only residents making use of this bounty, but there’s plenty of room for everyone to easily keep their distance.

While it might be a good time to do a few outstanding jobs around the apartment, I thank my lucky stars that the DIY stores are closed. My beloved means well but this is so not one of his competencies, plus he makes such a mess and leaves the job unfinished. It’s cheaper and easier to save them all up until there’s enough work to “get a man round” to do them.

While I recognise how fortunate we are, I’d like to say a heart-felt thanks to those manning the frontlines, whether that be in a hospital or supermarket or wherever, for making the situation so much more bearable for the rest of us. We enjoy joining in every evening at 20:00 to say a huge thank you.

Just in case the first paragraph induced panic, I should say that I don’t think the lockdown will last 12-18 months. I expect it to last 2-3 months, with thereafter a very gradual easing of restrictions during which we’ll all be venturing out locally wearing a mask and gloves and keeping our distance. However, I suspect it may be 12-18 months before we can venture afar.