France’s local lockdowns – what is being planned if Covid-19 cases spike?

France's local lockdowns - what is being planned if Covid-19 cases spike?
Could parts of France be going back into lockdown? Photo: AFP
The French government has ruled out a return to the strict nationwide lockdown that brought the country to a virtual standstill in March and April, but as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, what is being planned for hotspot areas?

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic France brought in one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe with everyone ordered to stay home unless absolutely necessary and a form required every time you stepped out of your home.

While this undoubtedly brought case numbers under control, it also had a massive effect on the national economy.

The economic effects, combined with the much improved testing and tracing programme, means that ministers say France will not go back to a nationwide lockdown.

But as cases continue to rise at quite worrying rates, what is being proposed is the introduction of local lockdowns for 'hotspot' areas.

So what would this involve exactly?

France's prime minister Jean Castex was known as Monsieur Déconfinement for his work on the lifting of France's lockdown. Photo: AFP

The person spearheading the local lockdown plan is Jean Castex, France's newly appointed prime minister who in his previous role was responsible for drawing up the detailed plan to gradually ease France out of lockdown.

Here's what he has to say.

“What must be avoided above all else is general réconfinement [return to full lockown]
 
“We now know what it produces: such a measure breaks the progression of the epidemic, certainly, but at an economic and social level it is catastrophic, including for the psychological health of some of our fellow citizens,” he told the Nice-Matin newspaper.
 
“If there is to be lockdown, it could be very localised lockdowns. We will adapt.”
 
He, along with health minister Olivier Véran, also stressed that the way to avoid such a course was for everyone to continue practicing social distancing and hygiene measures.
 
But at the moment, the situation is causing some concern with sharply rising case numbers in certain areas including Brittany, south west France and the Paris region.
 
 
Both local and national authorities are calling on people to remember the health measures and not get complacent, but if cases continue to rise we could be looking at some more drastic measures.
 
Closures
 
Some closures have already happened on a local level, with authorities in the Brittany département of Morbihan closing beaches and parks at night after a spike in cases in one commune.
 
A bar in the town of Quiberon has been closed down after it was found to be at the centre of a cluster of cases and the Préfet for the area says he is considering more night-time closures of bars.
 
The government could also decide to impose lockdown on a certain area if there is a high number of cases.
 
The talk of 'very localised' lockdowns suggests this would be done on a town or département basis, rather than putting entire regions under lockdown.
 
If this is imposed, it is likely that bars and restaurants would again be ordered to close.
 
In Paris, Anne Souyis, the city representative responsible for health, says she thinks taking contact details for all bar and restaurant customers for tracing in the event of an outbreak – as happens in parts of Germany and Switzerland – would be a good idea.
 
 
Extra restrictions
 
Again this is already happening in some areas as local authorities decide to impose their own rules in addition to the government's measures. Some towns have made it compulsory to wear a mask on the street, which goes further than the government rule on wearing masks indoors.
 
At the beginning of the epidemic we also saw local authorities take their own measures such as closing schools and markets before the nationwide restrictions came in.
 
Any local lockdown would be likely to include closing markets, banning large gatherings and shutting public spaces. French schools are currently on their long summer holiday so a decision will not need to be taken about that until late August ahead of la rentrée on September 1st.
 
Travel bans
 
Many people who have holidays booked are now rather nervously eyeing the international travel rules after the UK abruptly imposed a quarantine on all arrivals from Spain. So far France has given no indication that it will do this and the border with Spain remains open, although French people are advised not to travel to Catalonia, the worst affected region of Spain.
 
Passengers arriving in France from 16 countries considered high risk now face compulsory Covid tests on arrival.
 
 
During the lockdown people who were permanent residents of France were allowed to come back if they were away so you won't be stranded, but any new rules could scupper holidays or long-awaited trips to see relatives in another country.
 
There's also the issue of travel restrictions inside France, such as a possible resumption of the 100km limit for non-essential trips away from home, although again this is likely to be limited to areas where outbreaks are bad.
 
Stay-home orders
 
This is probably the measure that people fear most – will they be confined to their homes again? In the Spanish region of Catalonia, which has seen a spike in cases, residents of Barcelona have been urged by city authorities to stay home, but for the moment it is only advice and there is no return to the fines and policing of the full lockdown.
 
The French government could well do likewise in badly affected areas and many people who have recently returned to work could find themselves on télétravail (remote working) again.
 
A return to the system of attestations for every trip outside the home and fines for non-compliance would likely be a last resort if other measures had failed to stem a rise in cases.
 
Case numbers
 
The French government has so far not released any information on the kind of case numbers that would lead to local lockdows, and it is likely that any decision would be in response to a range of factors including pressure on local hospitals.
 
 
Santé Publique France uses the guideline figure of 10 cases per 100,000 of the population to alert to areas that it is concerned about.
 
There are currently nine départements that are considered 'of concern' under this formula, although the designation does not trigger any specific measures. Cases also remain high in Paris and the surrounding areas, so this could trigger extra measures in the capital.
 
When will we know more?
 
Castex says he is working on a detailed plan for localised lockdown, including the threshold they will be triggered at. He told French media last week that is would be “ready soon”.

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  1. So Macron yet again has appointed another blinkered yes man with no experience to follow the Party line. This man was the cause of all these outbreaks in areas that didn’t have them before by opening the country up too early. This isn’t “rocket science” but common sense.

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