France says ‘coronavirus is under control’ as deaths fall

The COVID-19 pandemic is now "under control" in France, the head of the government's scientific advisory council said Friday, as the country cautiously emerges from a lockdown imposed in March.

France says 'coronavirus is under control' as deaths fall
A man cleans the cobblestones outside Versailles as it gets ready to reopen. Photo: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

“We can reasonably say the virus is currently under control,” Jean-Francois Delfraissy told France Inter radio. “The virus is still circulating, in certain regions in particular… but it is circulating slowly,” he added.

Delfraissy, an immunologist, and his colleagues were appointed to the coronavirus advisory panel as authorities sought to contain an outbreak that has killed over 29,000 people in France.

The number of daily deaths has fallen with just 46 reported by the health ministry on Friday and 1,094 patients in intensive care — well below the peak of more than 7,000 critical cases in early April.

Delfraissy said around 1,000 new cases were currently being reported in France per day, down from around 80,000 in early March, before the nationwide stay-at-home orders and business closures were issued.

READ: No return to lockdown in France, even if there is a second wave, says head of Scientific Council

In its latest summary of findings published Thursday, the Sante Publique France health agency estimated that the country had 151,325 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of June 2, when restaurants across France were allowed to reopen and more students able to return to class.

But it cautioned that at the height of the outbreak, patients with suspected coronavirus infections were not systematically tested, meaning the actual number of cases exceeds the official estimate.

Cautious optimism 

The advisory panel this week urged authorities to prepare for four potential scenarios of how the outbreak might unfold in coming weeks, ranging from continued but limited new cases to a “critical deterioration” of the situation.

“We think the first scenario, a controlled epidemic, is the most likely,” Delfraissy said, citing the success of confinement measures and the chance that coronavirus contagions would let up during the summer months.

READ: U-Turn: Spain to delay reopening up land border with France

He called for increased efforts to “test, trace and isolate” since only a small fraction of the French population has been exposed to it, meaning a second surge of cases remains a risk.

Currently around 75 percent of intensive care patients are grouped in four areas — the Paris region, two regions covering the country's hard-hit northeast, and the southeast near the city of Lyon.

Yet only the Paris region as the overseas territories of Guiana and Mayotte remain in the higher-risk “orange” category on the government's map of the coronavirus threat, with the rest of the country labelled “green.”

That led officials to reopen restaurants, bars and cafes on Tuesday, and lift the restriction limiting travel to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of a person's home — except for “orange” regions like Paris, where only outdoor seating at cafes and restaurants is allowed.

But gatherings of more than 10 people remain prohibited, and while more students have started returning to class, high schools in “orange” zones remain closed and universities are not expected to reopen until September.

The annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris on July 14, has been replaced with a much smaller tribute to health workers.

However, the postponed French Cup final could still go ahead before a limited number of spectators in Paris, the football authorities said Friday.

Both domestic Cup finals, postponed in April, may now be staged in August just before the planned start of next season.

The government hopes to further ease restrictions from June 22, including the reopening of cinemas, and the second round of voting for the country's municipal elections, originally set for March, are planned for June 28.

“If everything goes well… we will be able to start doing things in orange zones that we've already started doing in green zones. That would already be major progress,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said this week.

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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.