Lyon and Nice set for tighter restrictions as French warned about family gatherings

Local authorities in Nice and Lyon must toughen rules in their cities to limit the spread of Covid-19, France's health minister said on Thursday as he warned that "the epidemic was once again very active across the country".

Lyon and Nice set for tighter restrictions as French warned about family gatherings
French Health Minister Olivier Véran on Thursday laid out the government's strategy to fight the spread of Covid-19 in a televised speech to the nation. Photo: AFP

Olivier Véran said the government had asked local authorities in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) and Lyon (Rhône) to “take steps” to halt the spiralling Covid-19 rates in the two cities.

“For several weeks, we have seen the virus accelerate its circulation,” Véran said during the first of what was to be a weekly press conference by the health minister to update the country on the latest situation.

“The epidemic is once again very active in France,” he said.

The government last week asked the same of local authorities in Marseille and Bordeaux, where local authorities soon announced measures to restrict bar opening hours and limit the number of people allowed to gather in public. 

Local authorities in charge of the départements around Nice and Lyon will announce similar measures “by Saturday,” the health minister said.

“If the situation doesn't improve (in Marseille).. even stricter measures will without doubt need to be taken,” Véran said.

READ ALSO: Where are Covid-19 rates rising in France?

Authorities in Marseille have been concerned about the rapidly rising hospital numbers, with hospitals this week reporting that their intensive care units were filling up. This is the first time this has happened in France since the first wave of infections in March and April.

Unless swift action was taken, Véran said Lyon and Nice soon could find themselves in the same precarious situation.

In both cities, Covid-19 had reached a level of spread above the government's set threshold of alert.

Lyon on Thursday had an infection rate of 200, meaning that the city over the past seven days had registered 200 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Any area registering an infection rate of above 50 cases is considered an area of “elevated” concern  by health authorities.

In Nice, the number was was 150.

Véran said authorities were especially worried about the incidence rate among the elderly in the two cities.

“Protecting the elderly and vulnerable remains a pillar in our strategy to fight the virus,” the health minister said.

“In Lille, Toulouse, Rennes and Paris, the (incidence number).. has passed the alert threshold,” Véran said.

However Véran said these areas were not seeing the same pressure on hospitals and level of spread among the elderly. 

“We will be extremely attentive to the development in these cities,” he said, stressing that the situation could quickly deteriorate and that the government might have to ask local authorities in these areas as well to take similar measures to stem the spread.

Véran said local authorities had to strike a balance between acting “neither too early.. nor to late” when it came to taking extra measures to limit daily life.

If taken too early, the rules “would not necessarily be accepted by the French,” he said.

But taken them to late could have fatal consequences “due to the 15 days of delay of impact on hospitalisations.”

He asked French to be cautious and keep complying with health rules such as face-masks, rigorous handwashing and limit social gatherings.

“The figures no longer leave any doubt: Family gatherings, friendly, are massive sources of contamination,” he said.

“Each and every one one of us, plays a key role in the fight against the virus.”

“But we have to learn to live with the virus. We must preserve our social, economic, cultural and civic life. Every day, we are becoming more effective against Covid 19.”
The minister also encouraged parents to send their children to school even when they had a cold but no fever.
Classes would not be closed if there was just one infected case, but children would be forced to stay hole if there was a “chain of infection” in the class, he said.
He declared a shift in the country's testing strategy and said “priority groups would get priority.”

He added that there was “no point in getting tested too often.”

“The test is not a health measure, it must be done if you have any doubts or if you have been confirmed as a contact case,” he said.

A person was a contact case if they had spent time with a Covid-19 positive case and were alerted either by that person or by regional health authorities.

Anyone further out in the contact chain did not need to get tested, he said.

“Contact cases of contact cases are not contact cases,” he said.

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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.