Paris and Marseille placed on highest level of Covid-19 alert as cases rise

Paris and the Marseille area have been classified as "active zones" for Covid-19 by the French government, giving regional authorities extended powers to impose local restrictions.

Paris and Marseille placed on highest level of Covid-19 alert as cases rise
Photo: AFP

decree in the government's Journal Official added the French capital and the Bouches-du-Rhône département –  Marseille and the surrounding area – to a list of areas in France qualified as especially vulnerable because of their “active circulation of the virus.”

“We are observing two départements of particular risk.. Paris and Marseille,” said Director general of Health Jérôme Salomon in an interview with France Inter on Friday.


The areas on the highest level of alert – those recording more than 50 new cases per 100,000 people – only mentions Paris the capital, not the surrounding suburbs or the wider Île-de-France region.

In such “active zones” on the highest level of alert, local préfectures may take restrictive measures to limit the spread of the virus, according to a law from July 9th.

The law lists rules to “prohibit the movement of people and vehicles, as well as access to collective transport” as examples of such measures, along with “regulating access to meeting places and establishments open to the public.”

Health Minister Olivier Véran on Wednesday clarified that this could include closing areas such as markets, restaurants and bars. He also hinted that Marseille and Paris could be bumped up to a higher level of alert in the coming days, following a spike in the number of new cases in the cities.

IN NUMBERS: How worried should we be about the rise of Covid-19 cases in France?

Neither Paris nor Marseille have so far announced any of the extra measures mentioned above, although Marseille's largest library closed on Wednesday after a coronavirus case was traced back to the premises. Authorities asked the more than 3,000 people who had been to the library to get tested.

Health authorities in Paris have discovered 21 new active coronavirus clusters in the capital.

Both Paris and Marseille are on the increasingly long list of cities with rules on compulsory mask-wearing on the streets, on top of the nationwide rule on face-masks inside public spaces.

MAP: Where in France is it compulsory to wear a mask in the street?

Salomon said the reasons for the spike in the number of new coronavirus cases in Paris and Marseille were “logical”.

“These are densely populated urban zones with high flows of people, a lot of (means of) transport and young people with an intense social activity,” he said.

France has seen the number of new coronavirus cases in France steadily increase over the past weeks. Health authorities on Thursday reported 2,669 new positive cases in 24 hours – beating Wednesday's record as the highest daily tally registered since May.

France has ramped up testing programme over the past months, currently testing over 600,000 people per week (up from roughly  200,000 at the end of May), but health authorities say the increased testing alone cannot account for the rise.

Young people represented the largest chunk of the new cases, the national health agency said in their weekly statement published on Thursday.

MAP: Where in France are Covid-19 cases rising?

Twenty-one départements were on Friday classified as in a situation of 'heightened vulnerability', either 'moderate' or 'high', according to Santé Publique France. 

The health agency said “almost a third of (France's) départements exceed the threshold of 10 per 100,000 inhabitants,” the limit set for an area to be considered as of concern, “particularly in Ile-de-France and Provence-Alpes-Côte d´Azur.”

“Several départements in these two regions have sharply increasing rates and are approaching the alert threshold (50/100 000),” they wrote.

So far almost 30,400 people have died of coronavirus in France – 17 in the past 24 hours – and 374 are presently in intensive care.

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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.