French PM says coronavirus outbreak ‘under control’ but warns ‘life won’t go back to normal after May 11th’

France's Prime Minister on Sunday night declared the coronavirus outbreak in the country 'under control', but warned that when lockdown ends on May 11th "life will not go back to normal"

French PM says coronavirus outbreak 'under control' but warns 'life won't go back to normal after May 11th'
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, addressing the nation live on Sunday night said: “The circulation of the virus is weak and contained.

“I am saying this with a lot of caution; the virus is under control.”

But the Prime Minister also warned that there was a long road ahead, saying “life will not go back to normal after May 11th”.

President Emmanuel Macron has already announced that France will begin to lift its strict lockdown conditions from May 11th – but the loosening of the restrictions will be slow and gradual.

READ ALSO 'Living with the virus' – the plan for life after lockdown in France

From May 11th schools and businesses will begin to reopen but bars, restaurants and cafés will not reopen until at least early summer while public gatherings will be be allowed until – at the earliest – mid July.

Describing the epidemic as a “crisis is of a magnitude that we have never experienced” Philippe said the next stage would be gradually changing lives to co-exist with the virus.

He said: “Our lives from May 11th won’t be exactly what we knew before the lockdown.

“We will fight this by changing our habits. This will be our next challenge, and we will make it.

“The goal of the lockdown was to decrease the number of hospitalisations and people requiring intensive care.

“To achieve that, it was important that the French respect the rules. In general, people have done that.”

“Another goal was to limit the virus to certain regions.

“That's what we have managed to do.

“This shows the civility of the French and the capacity to adapt to an extreme situation.”

The regions of Grand Est and the greater Paris Île-de-France region have been by far the worst hit by the virus, but Philippe presented scientific modelling showing that, without a lockdown, the majority of France could have experienced the same level of infections.

READ ALSO What do we know about the people who have died from coronavirus in France?

French government modelling showing the situation in hospitals with the lockdown and the projected numbers without lockdown

The fact that the virus was concentrated in certain areas has meant that patients could be moved out to other areas with fewer cases, and avoid intensive care facilities becoming overwhelmed.

The latest figures showed that 644 intensive care patients have been transferred – by specially adapted trains and by air – to other parts of France and over the border the Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg.

France's death toll is now listed at 19,718 – 12,069 deaths in hospital and 7,649 in nursing homes, announced the Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon.

The deaths toll on Sunday for the past 24 hours in hospitals was listed at 395. For the 11th day in a row the number of patients in intensive care fell – by 89 people in the last 24 hours – and the overall number of hospital patients also fell by 29.

Visiting to the country's Ehpad nursing homes – which has been completely forbidden for more than a month – will be allowed in limited circumstances from Monday, health minister Olivier Véran added.

Government graphic showing intensive care occupation – starting from 5,000 beds at the start of the crisis, rising to 10,500 beds with an occupation level of 7,000 people.

Philippe also touched on the economic shock of the lockdown, with France projected to be facing its worst recession since 1945.

He warned: “The economic crisis is just starting. It will be brutal.

“We have never seen such a massive, general, brutal stoppage of the world economy.”

Latest figures show that economic activity has fallen by 36 percent since the lockdown began, with massive falls of 43 percent in industry, 88 percent in construction and 90 percent in the hospitality sector.

Philippe said that the government would be presenting its detailed planed for exiting lockdown within the next 15 days. There are several things that remain unclear – including how long the over 70s and others in vulnerable groups will have to stay confined and when international travel will be permitted again.

READ ALSO When will I be able to travel to France again?

But he stressed that the next stage will be 'living with the virus' and adapting behaviour over the course of many months until a vaccine is found.



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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.