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HEALTH

Macron pays homage to French health workers as death toll passes 1,300

French President Emmanuel Macron said the country's absolute priority was "to beat the virus" as the number of coronavirus victims climbed to 1,331 on Wednesday.

Macron pays homage to French health workers as death toll passes 1,300
Photo: AFP

Speaking from Mulhouse, a town in the hard-hit north eastern region of France, French President Emmanuel Macron once again referred to the battle against the virus as a “war”.

He said the whole of France was grateful to the health workers who were on the frontline “in a war against an invisible enemy”.

“The whole nation is behind them and grateful. We pay homage every day. The nation is by their side at all times,” he said, as he promised to launch a “massive investment plan” to “revalorise the hospital sector.”

“We owe them that,” he said. “They save lives. They do everything in their power,” he added whilst commending their “exceptional courage”.

He announced a huge investment plan for hospitals would be put in place but that health workers are paid more for all the overtime they putting in.

The president also thanked those on the “second line” – the supermarket workers, deliverers, cashiers, the workers who are keeping France functioning during the period of confinement.

Macron also thanked those “staying confined in their homes” for “slowing down the virus so that hospital workers can do their job.”

“Everyone has a role to play,” he said.

Macron also said he would launch a new military operation, which he called Opération Resilience (Operation Resilience), which would intervene “particularly in areas concerning health, logistics and protection.” Two helicopter carriers would be sent to the south of the south Indian ocean, close to Mayotte and La Réunion.

“We are at war,” he said. “We’re only at the beginning, but we will persist.” 

Death toll rises

Earlier in the evening national health director Jérôme Salomon told journalists during the Wednesday evening coronavirus press briefing that “We're standing in front of an unprecedented health challenge,”

In the last 24 hours, 231 people had died from the coronavirus, he announced.

This number does not include those who might have died from the coronavirus at home or in retirement homes, however, only those who have died in hospital. That means that the real coronavirus death toll is likely higher.

Salomon underlined that more than 86 percent of the people who had died were aged over 70 years old.

Currently 2,827 people were in intensive care.

“It is a considerable, exceptional number over such a short time and for one single illness,” Salomon said.

“Our top priority is to prevent that the intensive care beds in the most affected areas of the country fill up.”

READ ALSO: Which areas of France are the worst affected by coronavirus?

A total of 25,233 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, up from 22,300 Tuesday.

Currently only certain categories of people are tested, leading officials to say that the true number of cases in France is much higher than official figures.

READ ALSO Coronavirus testing in France – how does it work and who gets tested?

More than 11,539 people were in hospital on Wednesday, up from 10,176 on Tuesday. One third of these were aged less than 60, according to the health chief.

The number of people who have been released from the hospital however also increased, from Tuesday's 3,281 to 3,900.

“The crisis will last a long time and the coming days will be difficult,” Salomon said. “We will experience collective and individual tragedies.”

The scientific council specifically selected to advise the government on how to handle the coronavirus crisis has said at at least six weeks of lockdown may be needed.

“Everyone has a major role to play in limiting the spread of the virus,” Salomon said, reiterating the French government’s repeated call for everyone to “stay home.”

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POLITICS

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What’s in France’s 2023 budget?

France's finance minister has unveiled the government's financial plans for the next year, and says that his overall aim is to 'protect' households in France from inflation and rises in the cost of living - here's what he announced.

Income tax, property grants and cigarettes: What's in France's 2023 budget?

The 2023 Budget was formally presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, before economy minister Bruno Le Maire announced the main details to the press. 

The budget must now be debated in parliament, and more details on certain packages will be revealed in the coming days, but here is the overview;

Inflation – two of the biggest measures to protect households from the rising cost of living had already been announced – gas and electricity prices will remain capped in 2023, albeit at the higher rate of 15 percent, while low-income households will get a €100-200 grant. The energy price cap is expected to cost the government €45 billion in 2023.

EXPLAINED: What your French energy bills will look like in 2023

Property renovations – the MaPrimeRenov scheme, which gives grants to householders for works that make their homes more energy-efficient, will be extended again into 2023, with a budget of €2.5 billion to distribute.

Income tax – the income tax scale will be indexed to inflation in 2023, so that workers who get a pay increase to cope with the rising cost of living don’t find themselves paying more income tax. “Disposable income after tax will remain the same for all households even if their salary increases,” reads the 2023 Budget.

Pay rises –  pay will increase for teachers, judges and other civil servants as inflation is forecast to reach 4.3 percent next year after 5.4 percent in 2022. Around €140 million is assigned to increase the salaries of non-teaching staff in schools. 

New jobs – nearly 11,000 more public employees will be hired, in a stark reversal of President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign promise to slash 120,000 public-sector jobs – 2,000 of these jobs will be in teaching. 

Small business help – firms with fewer than 10 employees and a turnover of less than €2 million will also benefit from the 15 percent price cap on energy bills in 2023. The finance ministry will put in place a simplified process for small businesses to claim this aid. In total €3 billion is available to help small businesses that are suffering because of rising costs. 

Refugees – In the context of the war in Ukraine, the government plans to finance 5,900 accommodation places for refugees and asylum seekers in various reception and emergency accommodation centres. The budget provides for a 6 percent increase in the “immigration, asylum and integration” budget.

Cigarettes – prime minister Elisabeth Borne had already announced that the price of cigarettes will rise “in line with inflation”.

Ministries – Le Maire also announced the budget allocation for the various ministries. The Labour ministry is the big winner with an increase of 42.8 percent compared to last year, coupled with the goal to reach full employment by 2027. Education gets an increase of €60.2 billion (or 6.5 percent more than in 2022), much of which will go on increasing teachers’ salaries, while the justice and environment ministries will also see increased budgets.

Conversely, there was a fall in spending for the finance ministry itself.

Borrowing –  the government will borrow a record €270 billion next year in order to finance the budget. “This is not a restrictive budget, nor an easy one – it’s a responsible and protective budget at a time of great uncertainties,” said Le Maire. 

The government is tabling on growth of one percent, a forecast Le Maire defended as “credible and pro-active” despite an estimate of just 0.5 percent GDP growth by the Bank of France, and 0.6 percent from economists at the OECD.

The public deficit is expected to reach five percent of GDP, as the EU has suspended the rules limiting deficit spending to three percent of GDP because of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Parliament

The budget plans now need to be debated in parliament where they are likely to face fierce opposition. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party and its allies lost their majority in elections earlier this year.

Macron also plans to push ahead with a pension reform that would gradually start pushing up the official retirement age from 62 currently, setting up a standoff with unions and left-wing opposition parties.

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