Coronavirus: What to expect if France declares an official epidemic

French officials have said for some days that they expect a full epidemic of coronavirus. We take a look at what that means and why it's less scary than it sounds.

Coronavirus: What to expect if France declares an official epidemic
Photo: AFP

France is currently at 'stage 2' or the pre-epidemic level, but both president Emmanuel Macron and the health minister Olivier Véran have said that they are expecting coronavirus to reach epidemic level.

They say officials are working towards this and are well prepared ever since the explosion in the number of cases in neighbouring Italy.

READ ALSO Should I cancel my trip to France because of coronavirus?

What is an epidemic?

For a disease to have reached epidemic level it needs to have a certain spread.

The designation refers to how many have been infected with it – not how serious the illness is.

So something could be an epidemic if a large percentage of the population caught it, even if no-one got seriously sick, was hospitalised or died from the condition.

READ ALSO Coronavirus – the everyday precautions you can take to stay safe in France

How common are epidemics in France?

It's not particularly unusual for the country to declare an epidemic, this year we have been officially at epidemic level for seasonal flu since the beginning of February.

There are also regularly epidemics declared in winter for 'gastro' stomach flu.

Is it the same as a pandemic?

Pandemics are epidemics of new illnesses that have affected multiple countries. So far the World Health Organisation has not declared coronavirus a pandemic.

Like epidemic, pandemic only refers to how far the illness has spread and not how serious it is.

So what happens when France declares an epidemic?


Well the fact that France has been at epidemic level for flu since the start of February and most people haven't even noticed shows that it doesn't always have a huge impact on daily life.

Coronavirus is likely to be a little different though.

As it is new and there is no vaccine yet, authorities are keen to contain it and stop its spread as far as possible, which means taking more drastic measures than for a seasonal epidemic such as flu or gastro.

France has been at stage 2 – pre epidemic – since February 28th and public health officials began then taking steps for containment.

These included the banning of all events involving more than 5,000 people in a confined space.

In areas with a high number of cases all public gatherings – including markets and Sunday Mass – were banned and schools were closed.

On February 1st the government passed a decree that anyone who was self isolating (or whose children could not go to school because of coronavirus) was entitled to sick pay, in the hope that people would follow the health advice without worrying about losing out on wages.

Most health facilities have already enacted their 'white plan' of extra readiness and the French government announced on Tuesday that it was requisitioning surgical face masks in order to prevent panic buying and make sure they get to the people who need them.

Stage 3

Once stage 3 begins there are extra measures that can be deployed if the government considers them necessary.

They include

  • Extra resources for health professionals and those working in law and order.
  • Possible restriction of public transport. As the moment the government says there is “no question” of stopping the trains but there is provision to do so in extreme cases. The government is currently advising against all non essential travel, particularly outside the EU
  • Financial support for households affected by the epidemic could be available, for example for self-employed people who cannot go to work, and schools will start introducing distance learning methods if they are forced to close
  • Provision to close schools, nurseries and community groups if necessary or impose movement restrictions and curfews

Then what?

After stage 3 comes stage 4 – the return to normal.

Exactly how long that will take is difficult to calculate, give that this is a new illness, however the flu epidemic plan allows between eight and 12 weeks at stage 3 before things begin to return to normal.

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‘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.