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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French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

After the seismic decision of the US Supreme Court on Friday, French MPs are calling for the right to abortion in France to be protected by the constitution.

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party are to propose a parliamentary bill on Saturday that would enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. 

The move comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision on Friday.

“In France we guarantee and advance the rights of women. We protect them,” said Aurore Bergé – the head of Renaissance in the Assemblée nationale and one of the key sponsors of the bill. 

Another co-sponsor, Marie-Pierre Rixain tweeted: “What happens in elsewhere cannot happen in France. We must protect the right to abortion for future generations. 

In 2018 and 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s party – which back then was known as La République en Marche – refused to back bills proposed by left-wing party, La France Insoumise, to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. 

In a Saturday interview with France Inter, Bergé suggested that the success of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National during parliamentary elections earlier this month had created a sense of newfound urgency. 

She described the far-right MPs as “fierce opponents of women’s access to abortion” and said it was important “to take no risk” in securing it. 

READ MORE France’s Macron condemns US abortion ruling

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has come out in support of the bill. 

The left-wing opposition block, NUPES, also backs it and had planned to propose an identical piece legislation of its own on Monday. 

Macron is seeking parliamentary allies to pass reforms after his formation lost its majority in legislative elections earlier this month.

The legal timeframe to terminate a pregnancy in France was extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature.

Changing the constitution requires the National Assembly and Senate to adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of parliament sitting in congress. The other option is a referendum.