Concern grows in France about complacency as coronavirus cases increase

Concern grows in France about complacency as coronavirus cases increase
People sit on a bank of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris after France eased lockdown measures in May. Photo: AFP
Worried about a second wave of Covid-19 cases, health authorities have urged the French to maintain hygiene measures during the holidays. But with summer in the air and the memory of the nationwide lockdown slowly fading away, have the French become too complacent? Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine explores.

For a few weeks just after France began to ease its nationwide lockdown, walking down the streets of Paris was a radically different experience to normal.

Right and left, pedestrians clad in protective face masks carefully kept an appropriate distance.

In shops, restaurants and cafés people could be seen using hand sanitising gel to ward off potential coronavirus particles. Friends stopped greeting each other with the usual double (sometimes treble) cheek-kiss that is so typical for France, and resorted to an awkward elbow bump instead.

 

Nearly two months into this new “normal”, authorities worry that the – initially rigorous – collective respect for the government's health advice has turned into complacency that, in a worst-case scenario – could spark a resurgence of the epidemic.

“This summer could go very well, but only if measures of social distancing are kept,” said Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the Scientific Council convened by the French government to advise on coronavirus-related measures.

“I am struck by the fact that this is no longer the case,” he told French media.

On Friday public health agency Santé Publique France had some more concerning news.

The agency said “the circulation of the virus was progressing”, albeit at a low level.

It also said the famous R-rate – the reproduction rate of the virus – had risen above 1 and was well above 1 in certain regions of the country such as Pays-de-la-Loire and Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

If the R-rate rises above 1 it means every Covid-positive person on average spreads the virus to more than one person.

There were numerous active clusters being investigated around the country and Le Parisien newspaper reported an increase of infections along children, believed to be linked to the reopening of schools.

 

Delfraissy is not the only public figure who has warned the French about becoming careless.

Asked about whether the French were “slacking off” on protective measures, Health Minister Olivier Véran reminded that it was important that the country “don't forget them” in an interview with BFMTV. 

“I am not anxious by nature, but I am an observer. I can tell that there has been slacking off in all social spheres”, he said. 

 

Jerome Salomon, the head of France's national health agency, also warned about a second wave of coronavirus cases in an interview with the Figaro newspaper.

“What we have to understand is that the epidemic's resurgence will depend on our behaviour,” he said.  

So have the French become careless?

While the government has relaxed most of the strict health rules in place during lockdown, a number of rules and guidelines remain in place.

However many of these rules are merely advisory and sometimes it's hard to enforce them. Face masks is one such example – it is mandatory on all public transport, but only recommended on the street or in the company of others (except in some public spaces).

“I wore the face mask until recently, but when I realised that nobody around me was wearing it, I stopped because I thought I looked silly,” said Léa, 23.

Léa was walking in Paris with her friends, Adrien and Pauline, all in their 20s. All three admitted to having relapsed into old habits in the weeks since the lockdown ended.
 
Léa said she had gone back to greeting her friends – but not strangers – with a la bise.

La bise is the long-standing French tradition of greeting each other with kisses on the cheek. The government asked the French to stop doing la bise during the pandemic to limit the spread of covid-19. 

Léa said declining to kiss or hug could be tricky in some social contexts. 

“One time, I didn’t want to do la bise to a girl, but she told me I had to relax, that she wasn’t sick,” she said.

“Finally, I did it, although it really bothered me.”

Charlotte said she was not afraid of being straightforward when she didn’t feel like cheek-kissing.

“I just greet people with my elbow now,” she said.

But Adrien said: “I more often do the bise than not.”

“Now that gatherings such as fête de la musique are happening again, I think it’s ok”, he said.

Fête de la musique is an annual musical event in the end of June where cities all over France turn into street parties with pop-up concerts on sidewalks and in bars and restaurant.

The government was criticised for not having cancelled the event this year, which attracted quite large crowds, especially in Paris.

IN PICS: France shakes off its Covid blues with Fête de la Musique street party

“Hygiene barriers have fallen really quickly,” Emmanuelle, 45, told The Local.

“Some protective measures are kept in place, people are wearing face masks in the bus and in most shops, but I still think people aren’t being careful enough,” she said.

She and her family had however firmly stuck to their new coronavirus health routines.

“I don’t do la bise, and people around me don't either, we wash our hands all the time, she said.

Emmanuelle was still working from home.

“My boy is six years old, and at school they are being really careful, they apply all the protective measures”, she said.

Daniel, 74, also told The Local he was still being very careful.

“I wash my hands even more, it has become obsessive,” he said, adding:

“Sometimes when I am taking a walk in the neighbourhood I stop at the park to wash them because they put fountains with soap.”

Some in France fear that, as has been the case in other countries, younger people are more careless about health routines than older people, who have a higher risk of getting seriously ill from the virus.

In Paris, participants at “improvised” street parties known as “ProjectX” were criticised for not complying with general rules of social distancing.

 

“Will this relaxation have consequences?” the scientific council's Delfraissy asked, before replying that a second wave was “likely to return in October or November.”

“It is essentially our behaviour that determines whether or not we recover from the pandemic,” he said.

What's your view? Are people in France being complacent about hygiene measures?


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