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HEALTH

Coronavirus: French PM warns ‘first 15 days of April will be even more difficult’ as death toll rises

French PM Edouard Philippe warned on Saturday that the first 15 days of April will be even more difficult for the country, which is battling a nationwide coronavirus epidemic that has now claimed over 2,300 victims.

Coronavirus: French PM warns 'first 15 days of April will be even more difficult' as death toll rises
Photo: AFP

In a press conference on Saturday evening Philippe told the French people the battle against the virus “was only just beginning.”

The death toll in France from coronavirus rose to 2,314 on Saturday after some 319 more fatalities in the previous 24 hours, though the death toll only includes those who have died in hospitals.

As of Saturday France counted 4,273 patients in intensive care, almost 500 more than on Friday. In total there are some 17,620 coronavirus patients in French hospitals, 1,888 more than on Friday.

The PM said the pandemic was “an unprecedented health crisis not seen in more than a century.”

Philippe warned however that the worst was still to come for France, which has seen over 2,300 deaths from the virus and has been in nationwide lockdown since March 17th.

“The first 15 days of April will be even more difficult, indeed more difficult than the 15 days which have just passed,” said Philippe.

Philippe said the number of positive coronavirus cases was doubling every three to four days.

He called on the public once again to respect the measures on confinement in order to protect themselves and health workers.

“It's our collective responsibility to reduce our contact, that's how will we flatten the curve” of the epidemic, said Philippe.

But the PM vowed: “We will get through this crisis”.

The PM was joined by Health Minister Olivier Veran who laid out the government's strategy for dealing with the accelerating epidemic.

France orders one billion masks from China

Veran said the government's aim was three-pronged: Increase the number of intensive care beds, get the necessary equipment and human reinforcements for hospitals and to transfer patients around the country to ease pressure on certain hospitals.

The number of intensive care beds in France was initially 5,000, which has since risen to around 10,000 but the government hopes to increase it to 14,500.

Veran said the government was exploring various avenues to get hold of enough masks for French health workers, notably via an increase in production within France to make 8 million a week and by ordering more than one billion from China.

Five million tests ordered

The French health minister also said the country had ordered 5 million coronavirus tests that will be able to show a positive or negative result within 15 minutes.

Between now and the end of April France will be able to carry out 30,000 more tests a day. That number will rise to 60,000 in May and 100,000 a day by June, said Olivier Veran.

France currently carries out around 12,000 tests a day.

Separately the health minister has asked elderly care homes known as Ehpad to keep residents in individual isolation. It comes after numerous deaths have occurred in care homes, especially in eastern France.

See impact of confinement 'end of next week'

Dr Arnaud Fontanet an epidemiologist from the Pasteur Institute in Paris and a member of France's scientific advisory board said the country should be able to see the impact of the confinement measures by the end of next week.

“To be able to estimate the impact of these confinement measures on the main indicator, which is the number of people in intensive care each day, we need to wait a little,” said the scientist.

France has been in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic and officials have repeatedly warned it will take time for the measures to bear fruit.

The lockdown has been extended by another two weeks to April 15 given the gravity of the crisis.

 

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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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