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HEALTH

Coronavirus: France bans large enclosed events to try to prevent spread

The Paris half-marathon, which was scheduled for Sunday, has been cancelled as the number of confirmed cases in France rose to 100.

Coronavirus: France bans large enclosed events to try to prevent spread
The race was due to take place on Sunday. Photo: Harmonie Mutuelle Semi de Paris
The announcement came after the French government ordered the cancellation of “gatherings of more than 5,000 people” in enclosed areas as well as some external events.
   
As of 6pm on Saturday, the Director General said that France had 100 confirmed cases, nine of which are patients in a serious condition.
 
French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the cancellations of external events would affect gatherings in open areas where there would be “intermingling with populations from areas affected by the virus”.
 
 
In a statement on Twitter, the race's organisers said that it had agreed with city authorities to hold the race at an future date, which it said it would announce as soon as possible.  
 
 
   
Also cancelled was the final day of the Paris Salon de l'Agriculture – which attracts people from all over France – and the Annecy carnival. Organisers of the Nice carnival had already decided not to stage the final day on Sunday.
 
The weekend programme of French Ligue 1 football matches is unaffected and will go ahead as planned – although the players will not shake hands in line with the latest health advice.
   
Extra measures have also been put in place in six communes in the two départements most affected by the virus – Oise and Haute-Savoie. In those areas all large gatherings have been banned – including Sunday Mass – and residents advised to limit their journeys to essential movement only.
 
Since the start of the outbreak in France on January 24th, two people have died, a 60-year-old French teacher and an 80-year-old Chinese tourist.
 
Of the 12 people who contracted the virus in the first waved, 11 made a complete recovery and have been released from hospital.
 
The 88 other cases have all been reported since Tuesday.
 
Véran added: “We are now moving to stage two. The virus is circulating in our country and we must stop its spread.”

Existing hygiene advice – regular handwashing, using disposable tissues, covering you mouth with you elbow when you cough – remains in place, but the minister added: “I now recommend people avoid shaking hands.”

France has launched a special hotline number so worried members of the public can seek help and advice that is manned 24/7.

The number is 0800 130 000. The emergency number 15 should only be used if the a member of the public believes they are suffering from a medical condition linked to coronavirus.

 

The official total of 73 includes 11 who fully recovered from the virus earlier this month and 2 fatalities, one a 60-year-old teacher from northern France the other an elderly Chinese tourist.

French authorities have been stepping up preparations ever since the major outbreak of coronavirus over the border in Italy was reported over the weekend.

French ministers held an emergency meeting on Sunday night to discuss the situation in Italy, and began stepping up preparations in France, including preparing 70 extra hospitals to receive coronavirus patients and tripling the resources for the country's testing programme.

However authorities said they would not be closing the border with Italy.

“It doesn't make much sense,” said Jérôme Salomon. “Not to mention that you can travel by land, sea and air, or go through Italy and Austria.”

In Paris a major trade event which usually attracts thousands of people from around the world has been cancelled because of coronavirus fears.

The JEC World Leading International Composites Show had been scheduled to start on May 12th.

Anyone who has recently returned from Italy or China has been told to self-isolate for two weeks in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

On its website, the French government urged those returning from the listed places to “avoid all non-essential outings”, giving as examples “big gatherings, restaurants, the cinema”, for two weeks after their return and to keep their children home from daycare or school. 

Employees and students were encouraged to work from home “in so far as possible” and to avoid meetings, elevators and cafeterias.

Schools are currently asking all pupils recently returned from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea or Italy to stay at home for a fortnight.

Italy is a popular holiday destination for French families during the February holidays, and many schools also run trips there over the break.

Many schools have reported issuing advice to pupils to stay at home, and there are expected to be more on Monday when the new term starts for schools in zone B – Aix-Marseille and Nice.

France was the first country in Europe to confirm cases of coronavirus on January 24th, although then health minister Agnès Buzyn said at the time she believed that was simply because France had developed a better testing protocol than many other countries.

France initially saw five cases diagnosed in late January, all people who had recently travelled from China, where the outbreak began.

A French health worker who had treated a patient then became the sixth person to be infected.

The next six cases were all centred on a ski resort in the French Alps where a British man who had recently returned from Asia passed the virus on to a group of people who had been staying in the same ski chalet.

Apart from the elderly Chinese tourist all 11 recovered.

Until Tuesday, there had been no new cases for over a fortnight, but as more cases were confirmed in Italy, then Spain, Austria and Switzerland, French authorities prepared themselves again.

The World Health Organisation reports that of the people who contract the virus, the vast majority will make a full recovery and only five percent of cases are considered critical.

The people who have died so far have generally been elderly or with underlying health conditions.

France has in fact been officially in an epidemic state for normal seasonal flu since the start of February as thousands have fallen sick. Since the start of the flu season in November, 530 people have been admitted to intensive care and 44 people have died.

In France authorities are asking people who think they may have coronavirus symptoms not to go to hospital or their doctor's surgery – instead they should call an ambulance and tell the operator it is a suspected case of coronavirus. The ambulance number in France is 15.

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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HEALTH

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

An investigation has revealed that tap water supplied to some 12 million people in France was sometimes contaminated with high levels of pesticides last year.

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

Data from regional health agencies, and collated by Le Monde, found that supplies to about 20 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent the year previously, failed to consistently meet regional quality standards. 

The study highlighted regional differences in tap water quality. Hauts-de-France water was the most likely to be affected, with 65 percent of the population there drinking water contaminated by unacceptable pesticide levels. In Brittany, that level fell to 43 percent; 25.5 percent in the Grand-Est, and 25 percent in the Pays de la Loire.

Occitanie, in southwest France, meanwhile, showed the lowest level of non-compliance with standards, with just 5.1 percent of the region’s population affected by high pesticide levels in their tap water. However, figures show that 71 percent of people in one département in the region, Gers, were supplied with water containing high levels of pesticides.

Regional discrepancies in testing, including what chemicals are tested for, mean that results and standards are not uniform across France. Tap water in Haute-Corse is tested for 24 pesticide molecules; in Hauts-de-Seine, that figure rises to 477. 

One reason for regional testing standards are differences in local agricultural requirements.

Part of the increase in the year-on-year number of households supplied with affected water may also be explained by the fact that tests in many regions now seek to trace more molecules, Le Monde noted.

Water quality standards in France are strict – with a limit for pesticide residues set at 0.1 microgramme per litre, so the “high” levels found in tap water supplies may not represent a danger to health.

The question of the level of health risk to humans, therefore, remains unclear. The Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) has not defined a maximum safety level for 23 pesticides or their metabolites. Le Monde cites two metabolites of chloridazone, a herbicide used until 2020 on beet fields, for which only provisional safety levels in tap water have been set. 

Many of these molecules and their long-term effects remain unknown – and “the long-term health effects of exposure to low doses of pesticides are difficult to assess,” admits the Ministry of Health.

Michel Laforcade, former director general of the ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine told Le Monde that health authorities have “failed” on this subject. 

“One day, we will have to give an account,” he said. “It may not be on the same scale as the contaminated blood affair, but it could become the next public health scandal.”

In December 2020, the Direction générale de la santé (DGS) recommended “restricting uses of water” as soon as the 0.1 micrograms per litre quality threshold is exceeded, in cases of residues for which there is no formal maximum health value.

But this principle is not always applied, according to France 2’s Complètement d’enquête programme.

In December 2021, the DGS asked the Haut conseil de la santé publique (HCSP) “for support on the management of health risks associated with the presence of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in water intended for human consumption.”

The HCSP, in response, said that “an active and urgent policy must be implemented to reduce the contamination of resources by pesticides”.

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