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UPDATE: The latest information on the coronavirus crisis in France

UPDATE: The latest information on the coronavirus crisis in France
A woman walks past a closed shop with a " for sale " sign in the French Riviera city of Nice, southern France, on April 28, 2020. AFP
From the government's plans for life after lockdown to the latest on the spread of the epidemic, here's all the latest news, information and advice covering the coronavirus crisis in France. This article was last updated on Thursday April 23rd. (Paywall Free)

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Main points:

What's the latest on the death toll in France?

France on Tuesday April 28th reported 367 new  coronavirus deaths, bringing the country's toll since March 1 to 23,660 but with the number of people in intensive care continuing to decline.
 
The daily toll was lower than Monday's 437, and came as the government announced plans to cautiously lift France's epidemic lockdown from May 11.
 
The health department said there were 221 fewer people in intensive care from a day earlier.
 

(article continues below)

See also on The Local:

French PM unveils detailed plan for life after lockdown

France will begin a gradual but “risky” return to normality on May 11, with shops, markets and some schools reopening after an eight-week coronavirus lockdown credited with saving over 60,000 lives, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday.

But life will not be as before, with face masks compulsory on public transport, working from home strongly encouraged for several more weeks, and restaurants and cafes — quintessential to the French way of life — remaining shuttered.

The French people “will have to learn to live with the virus”, said Philippe, urging strict, ongoing respect of social distancing and personal hygiene measures to limit new infections to a minimum, with no vaccine or 
proven treatment yet available.

At the same time, France could not afford an “indefinite” lockdown, said Philippe. 

Non-essential businesses have been closed since March 17, and people confined to their homes except for urgent business.

“We must protect the French without immobilising France to the point that it collapses,” Philippe told the National Assembly, which must vote on his proposed measures.

It is necessary, the premier said, to “gradually, cautiously, but also resolutely proceed with lifting the lockdown, as long-awaited as it is risky.”

Main points: 

 

  • No permission slip needed for trips outside home after May 11th…
  • .. As long as you are not travelling more than 100km from home
  • Long distance travel in France allowed only for essential reasons
  • France to carry out 700,000 tests a week after May 11th
  • Those who test positive must be isolated for 14 days either at home or in special accommodation
  • Masks will be made compulsory in some sectors, for example on the metro and in secondary schools
  • Everyone working from home should continue to do so
  • Crèches to reopen, but with max 10 children in each group
  • Maximum 15 pupils in each school class
  • Shops to reopen 
  • Bars, restaurants, cinemas and beaches to remain closed
  • Public and private gatherings of up to 10 people allowed
  • No religious ceremonies before June
  • BUT, rules may vary between départements 
  • French football, rugby seasons cannot resume until the end of the summer
  • Face masks obligatory on public transport
  • Workers encouraged to continue working from home

The prime minister warned the lockdown could be extended at the last minute, and urged people to continue observing confinement rules so as not to unleash a new infection wave.

Red and green 'weather map' to determine how some restrictions are eased

When presenting the detailed nationwide plan for how France will begin to lift its lockdown measures from May 11th, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe introduced a new concept – red départements and green départements.

Not previously discussed by the government, this idea is based on looser restrictions for départements where there are fewer cases of coronavirus and where local health services are coping well and tighter restrictions for areas where the virus is still prevalent and hospitals under pressure.

REVEALED The plan for life in France after May 11th

There have been huge disparities in case numbers across France, with thousands of people dying in Paris and in the east of the country while several départements have recorded fewer than 10 deaths. Most of the south west of the country for example has largely been spared.

The government has therefore decided that it makes sense for areas with fewer cases to be allowed to do things like reopen parks and secondary schools, while areas with a high number of cases will have more restrictions.

To this end, every one of France's 96 mainland départements as well as its overseas territories will be given a designation – red or green.

Starting on Thursday, France's Director General of Health Jérome Salomon, who has become a well-known figure in the country with his calm and measured nightly briefings on coronavirus death tolls and hospital patient numbers, will also present every evening an inventory of the situation in each département.

READ MORE: The 'weather map' that will show how each area of France can lift its lockdown

What's the plan for schools?

May 11th

This is the date when pre-school (maternelles) and primary schools (élémentaire, primaire) will reopen, although the first day will be just for the return of teachers.

Pupils won't return until May 12th.

Classes will be limited to groups of 15 and the reopening will be based on a “voluntary” system.

In other words parents won't be forced to put their kids back in schools, but they will have to ensure they can follow teaching from home.

If classes are oversubscribed the children of keyworkers, vulnerable children or children who are not able to home-school will get priority.

Initially the government's plan was to allow only certain classes to return to pre-school and primary schools on May 11th with the rest to return on May 25th.

But this split has been scrapped in favour of bringing all year groups in the schools back at once.

It's worth adding however that many mayors have already objected to primary schools reopening on May 11th and have threatened to keep them closed.

Teaching unions too have expressed opposition especially in areas hard-hit by the virus such as Paris.

“We are asking for details on the health protocol,” said Francette Popineau from the SNUipp-FSU union.

“We also need to be very clear, if a school cannot meet all the sanitary requirement, it must not reopen,” she added.

Local authorities have the final say, so it might be the case that come May 11th not all primary and pre-schools in all parts of the country actually reopen.

Nurseries

Creches will also be able to reopen on May 11th, but children will only be allowed in groups of 10 maximum.

May 18th

From May 18th secondary schools (colleges) will be able to reopen in France. But unlike the reopening of primary schools, this will be based on the government's new “weather map” system for each département.

Départements will be coloured red if the virus is still prevalent in the area and hospitals are still under pressure and they will be coloured green if the area is largely free of the virus.

READ ALSO The 'weather map' that shows how each area of France can lift its restrictions

Only secondary schools in the départements coloured green will be allowed to reopen and it won't be all classes. Only years 5 and 6 will return on May 18th. A decision will be taken at the end of May for years 4 and 3.

Class sizes will also be limited to 15 pupils.

'By the end of May'

Initially the government aimed for high-schools (lycées) and technical colleges (lycée professionels) to reopen on May 25th but the government has now changed tack.

French PM Philippe said a decision will be taken by the end of May as to when lycées will reopen again. If the government gives the green light then these establishments could reopen in June starting with the technical colleges.

Classes will also be limited to 15 so many pupils may have to continue distance learning.

“I want to leave the maximum amount flexibility to school directors, parents of pupils and local communities to work together pragmatically to find the best solutions”, said PM Philippe.

READ ALSO: The essential language you need to understand the French school system

Summer holidays

After much speculation that France's sacrosanct summer holidays (grandes vacances) could be delayed until later in the summer, France's education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on Wednesday that they won't be altered.

So schools will break up for the summer on Saturday, July 4th.

Masks

Education Minister Blanquer has made it clear that all staff working in schools and nurseries will be required to wear masks.

However only pupils in secondary schools (colleges) will be forced to wear them. Masks will be made available in schools if pupils don't bring their own.

The government has decided that it would be counter-productive to force primary and pre-school pupils to wear masks.

Teachers

Teachers with “health vulnerabilities” would be able to remain on télétravail (working from home).

And what's the plan in Paris?

The city's mayor Anne Hidalgo has laid out the extra measures she wants to take to keep Parisians safe once the lockdown starts being gradually lifted from May 11th.

Masks would be compulsory on all public transport. This may end up being government policy too – the health minister said on Sunday that it was “likely” – but if not, Paris would do it anyway.

Valérie Pécrresse, head of Île-de-France Mobilites, backed this, saying: “I have asked the government to make the wearing of masks compulsory on public transport at the time of the deconfinement.”

The mayor also wants to create a network of hand gel dispensers, particularly on public transport such as at bus and tram stops.

The city's crowded Metro system is probably going to prove the most challenging area to respect social distancing in, even with masks and hand gel, so the mayor wants as few people as possible to use it.

Instead she plans to increase cycle lanes, particularly along existing Metro routes.

READ MORE: How Paris is planning for life after lockdown

How bad has the economy been hit?

As it stands, France’s GDP is expected to drop by 8 percent in 2020. Most economists agree that France is set for its biggest economic downturn since 1945. 

“There’s an overall consensus among economists that the recession will be worse than in 2008,” said Anne-Laure Delatte, an economist who works as a researcher at the French institutes CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) and CEPII (Centre d’études prospectives et d’informations internationales).

The 2008 crash – the most powerful jolt to the global financial system in modern times, with disastrous ripple effects on national level – was caused by the real estate bubble bursting, pushing the world banking system to the brink of collapse.

This time, the shock to the economy is caused by something more tangible – the nationwide lockdown which has halted vast numbers of the country's businesses.

 “People stop consuming and companies stop investing. It’s a vicious circle that amplifies the crisis and makes this a problem that is very difficult to address, ” Delatte said.

READ MORE: Just how bad will France's economy be hit by coronavirus epidemic?

French police hand out 900,000 fines

A total of 915,000 fines have been issued since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, according to the French government, while in Brittany, police have clamped down on holiday makers and second home owners.

 

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the country's police had carried out 15.5 million stops since March 17th, the first day of the strict nationwide lockdown, and handed out 915,000 fines.

Fines were initially €38 but were quickly raised to €135.

“Remaining in lockdown is extremely difficult,” Castaner said in an interview with BFMTV.

As he thanked the French for showing “exemplary behaviour” in respecting the government's rules, he noted an increased number of “slip ups” lately.

“It's our duty to maintain a high level of controls,” he said, to ensure that people in France continue to follow the rules.

France tightens rules on entering the country with new 'international travel certificate'

France has introduced tougher restrictions for people wishing to enter the country during lockdown and has introduced a new travel certificate that all travellers must fill out.

Unlike many other European countries, France has not closed its border, but from April 6th anyone entering the country requires a permission form.

Anyone who wants to travel within France already need to have a signed, timed and dated “attestation” with them, but now these will be required to enter the country as well.

The Attestation de déplacement internationale (international travel certificate) – which can be downloaded here and has a version in English – gives strict definitions of who is allowed into France during lockdown.

The form must be presented at the border, and also before boarding a ferry, train or plane heading to France.

French citizens and their children are allowed back into the country, but foreigners are only allowed in under certain circumstances.

Britons are classed along with EU nationals. The rules for entering are below. For more information read this article.

 

How have different regions in France been affected by the crisis?

The coronavirus epidemic is now widespread across France, but certain parts of the country have been hit worse than others. These four maps from French health authorities show where in France hospitals are under intense pressure and which départements have been largely spared so far. 

The maps are being kept up to date by France's public health agency Santé Publique France and show the impact of the coronavirus on départements across France.

Ten million workers on 'partial unemployment'

More than 10 million employees in France have been placed on “partial unemployment”, the labour minister announced on Wednesday.

 

“This morning there are 10 million employees whose salary is paid for by the state because they are on partial unemployment, ” said minister Muriuel Pénicaud.

The government's “chômage partiel” scheme has been described as the most generous in Europe and is aimed at avoiding companies laying off staff en masse.

The government has stumped up billions of euros to cover 84 percent of salaries of those on partial unemployment.

Around 820,000 employers, or more than six in 10, have applied for the social security scheme.

France has unveiled a package of measures that offer support to self-employed people and small businesses.

READ ALSO: What is 'chômage partiel' in France and how can I access it?

New testing strategy

The French health minister also said the country had ordered 5 million coronavirus tests that will be able to show a positive or negative result within 15 minutes.

Between now and the end of April France will be able to carry out 30,000 more tests a day. That number will rise to 60,000 in May and 100,000 a day by June, said Olivier Veran.

France currently carries out around 12,000 tests a day.

Coronavirus testing in France: Who will be tested under the new strategy?

'Avoid anti-inflammatories'

France's Health Minister Olivier Véran warned the public that anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and cortisone could be an aggravating factor in coronavirus infections.

“Taking anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, cortisone…) could be an aggravating factor for the infection,” Véran tweeted.

“In case of fever take paracetamol. If you are already on a course of anti-inflammatories or if you are in doubt then consult your doctor,” Véran added on Twitter.

His advice has now been backed by the World Health Organisation.

France has also set up an online site for those worried they may have coronavirus.

*******

 

What is coronavirus?

It's a respiratory illness and actually of the same family as the common cold.

The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

The outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan – which is an international transport hub – began at a fish market in late December. The illness has now spread across Europe, Asia, Africa and the USA.

What are the symptoms?

Coronavirus belongs to the same family as colds and flu, and the symptoms are mostly similar  (although coronavirus is not a flu) – like cough, headache, fatigue, fever, aching and difficulty breathing.

It is primarily spread through airborne contact or contact with contaminated objects.

Its incubation period is two to 14 days, with an average of seven days.

But it is very different to flu as is it considered far more contagious and the mortality rate could be as much as ten times higher.

France says some 98 percent of patients recover as do 80 percent of those who end up in hospital with severe forms of the virus.

How can I protect myself?

Follow the lockdown rules. This is the best way to avoid the spread of the virus and therefore protect both yourself and the people most vulnerable to the virus – the elderly and people with ongoing health conditions.

French authorities are also asking everyone to practice good basic hygiene;

  • Wash hands your thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating or it you have been touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on the Metro
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Cover your mouth with your elbow when coughing
  • Use disposable tissues and throw them away after use
  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.

The French government has set up a “green number” that people can call for any non-medical coronavirus-related questions. The line is open 24/7.

The number is 0 800 130 000. There are also daily updates on its website here.

 

READ ALSO The everyday precautions you can take to stay safe from coronavirus in France

How dangerous is it?

The World Health Organisation says that only five percent of cases are considered critical, and 80 percent of infected people have only mild symptoms.Some 15 percent of cases see patients develop a serious condition that may need hospital treatment.

The majority of the people who have died were either elderly or had underlying health problems, and health authorities say everyone needs to practice good hygiene in order to protect this group. Visits to retirement homes and long-term care facilities are now banned.

But doctors and the government have repeatedly stressed that young people too can end up in critical condition. France's youngest victim to date was a 28-year-old man from the south of the country.

What should I do if I think I have it?

If you think you have the illness do not go to hospital or your doctor's surgery. French health authorities are worried about potentially infected people turning up at hospitals and passing on the virus.

You can call the green number above for advice.

If you have severe symptoms including difficulty breathing, call the ambulance number – 15.

If you are sick but do not need an ambulance, telephone your regular doctor or set up an online consultation. Do not leave your home unless it is absolutely necessary.

READ ALSO Emergency in France – who to call and what to say

French vocab

Fièvre – fever

Maux de tête – headache

Courbatures – aches

Toux – cough

Difficultés respiratoires – breathing difficulties

Un rhume – a cold

La grippe – the flu

Coronavirus – coronavirus

SAMU – the French ambulance service, or service d'aide médicale urgente, to give them their full name

*****

Hi,
 
The Local's mission is to give our readers all the information they need about what's happening in France. We rely on paying members to do that, but we have chosen not to put any of our articles about the coronavirus behind our hard paywall, to help keep all of our readers informed. We believe it is the right thing to do at this time.
 
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Emma,
 
Editor, The Local France

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