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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Churches, mosques and synagogues reopen across France

French churches were preparing to hold their first Sunday masses in more than two months after the government bowed to a ruling that they should be reopened -- provided proper precautions were taken.

Coronavirus: Churches, mosques and synagogues reopen across France
A church in Paris after lockdown measures were eased. Photo: THOMAS COEX / AFP

Nearly two weeks into the relaxation of its shutdown, the government finally allowed churches, mosques and synagogues to reopen.

Last Monday, the France's Council of State, which instructs the government on legal issues, ordered it to lift its sweeping ban on all religious services, in place since the lockdown.

The ruling said that such a ban on freedom of worship caused “damage that is serious and manifestly illegal”, ordering the government to lift the ban within eight days.

But priests, pastors, rabbis and imams will still have to ensure that the correct safety measures are in force.

READ: Quarantine for people travelling between UK and France after British government announcement

Worshippers will have to wear masks, there will have to be disinfectant gel on hand and the seating will need to be organised to ensure people keep a safe distance from each other.

“My cell phone is crackling with messages!” Father Pierre Amar, a priest in Versailles, told AFP. At one church in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside Paris, some worshippers turned up at short notice Saturday morning, having heard that mass would be celebrated.

“We knew 30 minutes in advance, we ran to come,” said Eliane Nsom, who went with her three daughters. Around 40 people attended the service.

Government caution

France's mosques nevertheless called on Muslims to stay at home to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

They said they would gradually resume services from June 3.

France's Jewish community took a similarly cautious line. Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia stressed that believers should not “rush towards the reopening of the synagogues”.

The latest figures for those seriously ill from the virus fell Saturday, with 1,665 patients still in intensive care for the coronavirus: 36 fewer than 24 hours ago.

The death toll from the virus stands at 28,289. But the government has had to fight a series of legal and battles to control the pace of the gradual loosening of France's two-month lockdown.

It has refused Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo's call to reopen the capital's parks and gardens, over fears this could accelerate infections in the city, already hard-hit by the virus.

Heavily criticised for what critics say was their inadequate preparation in the run-up to the coronavirus crisis, the authorities have taken a caution line in handling the exit from the lockdown.

Many of its experts judge that it is too soon to say that the virus has been brought under control in France.

But some specialists, such as epidemiologist Laurent Toubiana believe that the coronavirus has already done its worst.

“A significant portion of the population may not be susceptible to coronavirus, because non-specific antibodies to the virus can stop it,” Toubiana told AFP.

The controversial microbiologist Didier Raoult has also said the dangers of a second wave of the virus have been exaggerated.

But a series of medical papers have called into question his insistence that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against the coronavirus, a cure most notably promoted by US President Donald Trump.

The latest study of nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients, published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, showed no benefit in treating them with anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

Such a treatment even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital, it said.

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ENVIRONMENT

High pollen counts predicted in France due to heatwave

Pollen from highly allergenic ragweed plant is expected to peak earlier this year, as a result of high temperatures.

High pollen counts predicted in France due to heatwave

Ragweed pollen (ambroisie) is expected to spread earlier this year across many parts of France, particularly in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

The National Aerobiological Surveillance Network (NASN) announced on Tuesday that the Lyon region has reached a critical threshold of ragweed pollen in the air to begin causing allergic reactions in sensitive people. The peak for the concentration of pollen in the air is expected for the end of August, which would be in approximately 20 days.

While the risk of allergic reaction is highest in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes currently, particularly in areas like northern Isère, Drôme, Ardèche and southern Rhône, the plant has spread across different regions in France. Up to 15 percent of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes could experience some level of allergic reaction from the plant, as it is highly allergenic, according to Anses.

It can also be found in Burgundy, Franche-Comté, New Aquitaine, Occitanie, as well as the north of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

However, in contrast, ragweed is typically neither found in the Northern and Western parts of the country, nor along the Mediterranean coast.

The high pollen counts are expected approximately one week early this year due to the high temperatures seasonal temperatures.

Ragweed pollen can cause runny noses, stinging eyes and even breathing difficulties in people with an allergy, said Samuel Monnier, engineer at the NASN, to BFMTV.

If you have a ragweed allergy, consider consulting a doctor or allergist to pre-empt or treat the symptoms, recommends Monnier. Residents in regions where the pollen count is high might also consider drying clothes inside rather than outside, in order to keep the pollen from sticking to clothing. 

The plant is considered particularly invasive, and many local authorities have put into place systems to remove it when spotted.  In order to report the presence of ragweed, you can go to the website signalement-ambroisie.fr or download the smartphone application “Signalement-Ambroisie.”

If you’re sensitive to pollen, you can keep up with the interactive pollen count maps across France by going to the website www.pollens.fr/

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