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HEALTH

France reports first coronavirus death in Europe

An 80-year-old Chinese tourist has become the first person to die from the coronavirus in Europe. The man died on Friday at a hospital in Paris.

France reports first coronavirus death in Europe
Photo: JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

The man, who comes from the province of Hubei, the central area of the virus’ outbreak, arrived in France as a tourist on January 16th. 

He had been hospitalised since January 25th. 

READ: What you need to know about coronavirus in France

France’s Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said in a televised press conference that the man’s “condition had quickly worsened and he had been in critical condition for several days.”

Only three deaths have so far been recorded outside mainland China — in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan. 

Six people with the virus remain in hospital in France, Buzyn said, adding that none were seriously ill.

One of them was the dead Chinese tourist's daughter and the rest were British nationals who were infected by a compatriot at a French ski resort.

The virus originated late last year in China, where it has since infected more than 66,000 people and killed more than 1,500.

Three deaths from the virus have so far been recorded outside mainland China — in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan.

The scale of the epidemic ballooned this week after officials in the Chinese province of Hubei — the epicentre of the outbreak — changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to the tally.

Some 56 million people in Hubei and its capital Wuhan are now living under quarantine, virtually sealed off from the rest of the country in an effort to contain the virus.

'Preparing for pandemic'

Away from China, almost 600 cases have been confirmed — roughly 35 of which have been reported in the European Union.

The most concentrated number of cases outside China is on a cruise ship quarantined off the Japanese coast, which is holding at least 285 people with the virus among its 3,700 crew and passengers.

The US embassy has said it will fly roughly 400 Americans on board the ship back their home country and Buzyn said France was “always ready to repatriate its nationals”, though she made no firm commitment.

There are believed to be four French nationals on the Diamond Princess, where all those on board are mostly confined to their cabins and required to wear masks and keep away from others during brief outings on deck.

“We are following the international situation very closely,” Buzyn said.

“We need to prepare our health system to deal with a possible pandemic and therefore the circulation of the virus on national territory.” She said she would take stock of the situation on Tuesday in a meeting with health experts and officials.

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POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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