“We are in a deteriorating situation and we need to act,” Olivier Véran said as he laid out the latest Covid-19 developments in France during a press conference.
“If we don’t take measures to slow down the virus,” Véran said, the consequences would come in 15 days, and there would be “more hospitalisations.”
It was a keenly-awaited press conference, especially in Paris, Lille, Lyon, Toulouse, Saint-Etienne and Grenoble, where the past week's rising Covid-19 rates had local authorities worried they would be subject to stricter measures to counter the spread in their cities.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday met with mayors of all these cities to consult them before making a final decision on what measures to take, after the government had taken hits from local authorities for not having properly consulted with them before last week's announcement.
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In the capital, Covid-19 rates by Thursday had surpassed all the three thresholds set by the government to be bumped up to a “maximum alert” level in the five-level alert system introduced by the government last week.
Referring to the latest numbers, Véran said they needed to be studied over the coming days before making a final decision, seeing as the development was so recent.
“If things don't improve, we will have to place Paris on a maximum alert level as of Monday,” Véran said.
That would mean closing down bars and restaurants in Paris and its petite couronne (the suburbs of Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne).
“We will review the situation on Sunday,” the health minister said, and stressed that Paris was not getting special treatment over Marseille, but that it was simply too early days to make the decision.
Only Aix-Marseille (Marseille and its metropole
) on the French mainland so far has had to close down bars and restaurants, as required in the government’s new alert system introduced last week.
Marseille was, along with Guadeloupe, the only two French areas placed on “maximum alert” and remained there this week.
“We are monitoring maximum alert areas like oil on fire,” Véran said.
He said the situation in five other cities – Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Toulouse and Saint-Etienne – was developing in a worrying direction, and that the government had told local authorities to take measures to reverse the trend.
“If things degrade further, we might have to decide to bump these areas up to a maximal alert,” he said.
The government later shortened the period to seven days as a compromise, but this period could be extended if the situation had not improved by then.
Véran said the government was striving to keep a close dialogue with local authorities.
Last week's announcement of closing down bars and restaurants in Marseille were met with fury in the city, both from the bar and restaurant sector, but also from local authorities who criticised a lack of dialogue from the government before making the decision.
The health minister said that the measures seemed to have a positive impact and that things were looking slightly better in some of the cities that had tightened their rules – including Marseille.
“I think of Bordeaux, Nice and even in Marseille, even if, and this is important, the numbers are still too high,” Véran said, adding: “It is an improvement that we need to pursue.”
“We have learned how to collectively fight coronavirus,” Véran said, referring to health measures such as mask-wearing and handwashing, but also testing and tracing and political measures such as closing down discos and limiting social gatherings.
“All these measures have helped us lower the virus' contagion,” the health minister said.
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“Do not be discouraged if you see that the health situation continues to deteriorate for a few days in your area. Your efforts, they must pay off and they will,” he said.
“If all of us make an effort to reduce our social contacts.. We will be able to push back the virus.”