France braces for weekend surge as coronavirus death toll nears 2,000

Another 299 people died from the coronavirus in France over the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll up to 1,995, as the French government warned the coming days "will be very difficult."

France braces for weekend surge as coronavirus death toll nears 2,000
Several hospitals in France are overwhelmed with the sharp increase of coronavirus cases over the past week. Photo: AFP

Friday's reported death toll on Friday was lower than the day before, when there were 365 fatalities recorded. 

The figures only include people who have died in hospital and not retirement homes, so the real toll is likely to be even higher than the official total.

The total number of people in hospital has reached 15,732 – up from 13,904 on Thursday – France's national health chief Jérôme Salomon told journalists on Friday evening.

Of the 3,787 people who were currently in intensive care, 42 were aged below 30, Salomon said. A third were younger than 60 years old.

France's youngest recorded victim of coronavirus – a 16-year-old girl died on Thursday in a Paris hospital.

“Nearly 5,700 people have recovered and been released from the hospital,” Salomon said – up from 4,948 the day before.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the coming days “would be very difficult” as he announced a two-week extension of the current lockdown.

France began its lockdown on March 17th initially for 15 days, although President Emmanuel Macron was clear that this was a minimum and it could be extended.

Philippe said the lockdown would last at least until April 15th and “could be prolonged” should the health situation require it.

A total of 32,964 people have now tested positive for the coronavirus, up from 29,155 yesterday. 

Health authorities say the real number is likely to be much higher as France only tests a limited amount of cases.

READ ALSO: Paris region braces as PM warns of surge in coronavirus cases

Salomon said operations of transferring patients between regions would be intensified in the coming days to ease pressure on the health system in the worst-hit regions. 

Hospitals in the northeast of France have long been overstretched and Parisian hospitals have warned that they too are reaching their limit.

The government has said the situation would deteriorate in the coming days as France approaches the peak of the virus.

Infected people needing hospital care in regions the east and Paris area would be transferred, the health chief said, to the southeastern regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, as well as Centre-Val de Loire, just south of Paris.

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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.