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HEALTH

France steps up coronavirus measures but vows to keep border with Italy open

After more than 300 reported cases of coronavirus and 12 deaths in neighbouring Italy, French ministers have held an emergency meeting to step up preparations in France.

France steps up coronavirus measures but vows to keep border with Italy open
Photo: AFP

Italy had confirmed several hundred cases of coronavirus in eight regions – by far the largest outbreak in Europe so far. Twelve people have died of the illness, the first deaths of people who had contracted the virus in Europe (an 80-year-old man who died of the illness in France on February 14th was a tourist who had travelled from China before developing symptoms).

 

Many Italian towns are now in lockdown as officials struggle to contain the spread of the virus.

Faced with this situation just over the border, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe convened an emergency meeting of ministers – including newly appointed health minister Olivier Véran – on Sunday night to increase France's readiness.

READ ALSO Coronavirus in France: What you need to know


France's newly appointed health minister Olivier Véran. His predecessor Agnès Buzyn is now running for Mayor of Paris. Photo: AFP

Here is what is happening;

Hospitals

An extra 70 hospitals are now prepared to receive and treat coronavirus patients.

Previously people with diagnosed or suspected coronavirus had all been sent to one of 38 university or specialist hospitals. Now a total of 108 hospitals – with at least one in each mainland département of France – have been prepared to receive, isolate and treat coronavirus cases.

Screening

Extra resources have been allocated for testing for potential cases of coronavirus and the testing capacity has been multiplied by three.

Health minister Olivier Véran said: “I have called the head of the University Hospital Institute of Infectious Diseases in Marseille, it is able to perform 1,000 tests per day in the area of Marseille alone. In the hospitals of Paris we are at 400 tests per day. We are going to be able to amplify the screening to be able to answer all the requests at that scale across France.”

Masks

An order has been placed for tens of millions of protective masks for health workers. The first case of coronavirus contracted in France was a healthworker who had been treating an infected person. France is therefore ordering high quality protective masks for all health workers who are in close contact with patients.

In the early days of the outbreak pharmacies across France reported selling out of surgical masks, but former health minister Agnès Buzyn said these are not effective in protecting people from the virus.

Border

The border between France and Italy will not be closed, ministers announced.  “It doesn't make much sense,” said Jérôme Salomon, Director General of Health. “Not to mention that you can travel by land, sea and air, or go through Italy and Austria.”

France had earlier in the outbreak ruled out temperature screening at airports, pointing out that the virus' long incubation period – up to 14 days – makes it ineffective. However there will now be additional information distributed to all passengers arriving from Italy about the symptoms to look out for and the procedure to follow in France.


Borders will not be closed. Photo: AFP

Quarantines

Italy has placed 11 towns on lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus and imposed a range of curfews. When asked if France could do the same in case of a mass outbreak, Jérôme Salomon said it was “not impossible” and provisions are already in place for such measures under France's existing plans for pandemic flu.

However the minister added that there have been no new cases of coronavirus detected in the last week.

Véran said: “We are acting quickly, we are taking strong action to deal with the epidemic threat and we are taking all the measures necessary to ensure the safety of the French people.”

He stressed the “very evolving” nature of the situation and added that he had spoken with his Italian and German counterparts. “We have agreed to meet again with several EU Health Ministers probably next week to discuss together how to deal with the risk of an epidemic.”

The most recent cases in France all centred around the ski resort of Contamines-Montjoie, where a British man infected a group of people who stayed in the same chalet.

In total France has had 12 confirmed cases – one French healthworker, six people in Contamines-Montjoie and five people who had recently travelled from China.

One the patients – an 80-year-old Chinese tourist – died of the illness while the others all made a full recovery and all but one have now been released from hospital.

According to the WHO, more than 80 percent of patients infected with the virus have mild disease and recover, while 14 percent have severe diseases such as pneumonia. Only five percent of cases are considered critical.

Anyone who who believes they may have the symptoms of the illness – which include cough, headache, fatigue, fever, aching and difficulty breathing – should not go to hospital, instead health authorities are asking people to call an ambulance and tell the operator it is a suspected case of coronavirus. The ambulance number in France is 15.

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

 

 

 

 

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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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