Macron calls for ‘more restrictions’ as France reports record spike in Covid-19 cases

President Emmanuel Macron called for tougher restrictions in areas suffering from rising Covid-19 rates, as France saw a new record-high number of new cases in 24 hours. Several French cities may soon be subject to tougher restrictions.

Macron calls for 'more restrictions' as France reports record spike in Covid-19 cases
Bars in Paris have closed, along with those in Marseille, in a bid to stem the rising spread of Covid-19. Will other cities soon follow? Photo: AFP

“There are areas where the virus is circulating too quickly, especially where it’s circulating a lot among the elderly who are those most vulnerable, and where we’re seeing more and more beds occupied in intensive care units,” Macron said during an interview with France 2 on Wednesday evening.

The French president was speaking on a visit to the southeastern town Breil-sur-Roya, after devastating floods have left at least five people dead and scores of houses destroyed.

On the same night France reported a record-high daily number of new Covid-19 cases along with 80 new deaths.

Santé Publique France on Wednesday recorded 18,746 new Covid-19 cases, the most cases ever recorded in one day and beating the previous of 16,972  set on October 5th – although testing has been greatly expanded since the first wave of cases in March and April.

“We will have to move towards more restrictions, like those we have seen in Bouches-du-Rhône [the département containing Marseille] and Paris and its suburbs,” Macron said.

EXPLAINED: How does France's Covid-19 alert system work?

Macron could be setting the scene for what will happen on Thursday evening, when Health Minister Olivier Véran will hold his weekly update on the general Covid-19 situation in the country.

Currently, Paris and its surrounding suburbs as well as the Marseille metropole are the only areas of mainland France on “maximum alert”.

But the government has warned that cities such as Lille, Grenoble and Lyon were on the brink of following suit if the Covid-19 situation continued to deteriorate.

IN DETAIL: The new Covid-19 restrictions to be enforced in Paris

Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne 
The numbers health authorities anxiously watch are the pressure on hospitals' intensive care units, the number of elderly contracting the virus and the overall infection rate in an area.
In the greater Paris region Ile-de-France, regional health authority ARS-Ile-de-France on Thursday activated their emergency plan blanc (white plan), to “mobilise all resources” in the coming days, after warning about a mounting pressure on their intensive care units. Paris previously reported having filled 36 percent of its regional intensive care capacity with Covid-19 patients, expecting it to reach 50 percent in less than a fortnight.

Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne on Wednesday were all approaching or had surpassed the thresholds set by the government to be set on “maximum alert”, according to French media.
In Lyon, the incidence rate was 245, meaning the city was reporting 245 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants – slightly less than the government's established threshold of 250. However, the incidence rate among elderly was higher than set limit of 100, reaching 145 on Wednesday.
French media reported that the intensive care unit capacity in Lyon also had surpassed the government's threshold of 30 percent, which meant more than 30 percent of the intensive care beds in the hospitals in the area were occupied by Covid-19 patients.
In Lille, the general incidence rate was 295 on Wednesday and as high as 270 among the elderly, while the intensive care unit limit approaching the 30 percent capacity limit.
Saint-Etienne and Grenoble were seeing similar numbers, both cities surpassed the thresholds set to become “maximum alert” zones, according to French media.
What about Toulouse?
Toulouse also featured among the cities in danger of becoming a “maximum alert” zone, according to the health minister. However, there seems to have been a lag in reporting the latest Covid-19 numbers, according to local media.
The latest numbers in Toulouse date back to September 30th, when the incidence rate in the city was 260.97. Among the elderly, the rate had surpassed the threshold of 100, but local health authorities did not provide an exact number. The same was the case for the intensive care unit capacity. 
According to Santé Publique France's daily updated interactive map, the Haute-Garonne département, home to Toulouse, counted 33 patients in intensive care units on Wednesday, down from 52 on October 4th. We do not know how many total intensive care beds hospitals in the area have at their disposal, but at the height of the pandemic in early April the département counted 108 intensive care patients.
The Local will follow the health minister's announcements tonight and update here.
While Wednesday's record spike in cases was not good news, health experts have warned against comparing current case numbers to those during the height of the pandemic this spring, when France did not mass-test the population and masses of cases went undetected.
The test positivity rate – the number of test that brought back a positive result – continued to rise and reached 9.1 percent (it was less than 2 percent in early August). However, this number too should be cautiously interpreted as the government has urged only those with good reason to think that they could have Covid-19 to get tested, in a bid to ease the high pressure on laboratories and testing centres.

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Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

You might not have thought about it too much as you enjoyed an extra day off work, but it is perhaps unexpected that France - proudly secular since 1905 - has so many public holidays based around Catholic festivals.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Reader question: Why does France have Catholic holidays like Ascension, Assumption and Toussaints? I thought it was supposed to be a secular republic?

The French Republic is very proud of its secular principles but yet as some readers observed, many public holidays are linked to Catholic celebrations, a reminder of its religious history.

Roughly half of the public holidays in France represent Catholic events: Easter, Ascension (May 26th), Assumption (August 15th), Pentecost (for some people), All Saints’ day (November 1st) and of course Christmas.

If you live in Alsace-Moselle (formerly Alsace-Lorraine) you get two extra holidays, both religious ones – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) – more on why that is later.

France’s secular stance takes its roots in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but was formally codified into law in 1905. 

France does not recognise, pay or subsidise any religion. So French local and national governments are not allowed to finance churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, and religious symbolism is not allowed in State buildings or for representatives of the State.

It is these rules that mean that, for example, French primary schools don’t perform nativity plays at Christmas and French female police officers are not permitted to wear the Muslim headscarf while on duty.

EXPLAINED What does France’s secularism really mean?

The flip side of this is that freedom of worship is also protected in the 1905 law, and everyone is allowed to practice whatever religion they choose in their private life.

The only exception to the secular rules are the three departments of Alsace-Moselle. When the 1905 law was passed the region was part of Germany and only became French again at the end of World War I. As part of the compromise agreed, today bishops, priests, rabbis and pastors have the status of civil servants and the state pays for the maintenance of religious buildings. Religious education in public schools is also preserved.

So all that seems to pretty strongly suggest that Catholic festivals should play no part in France’s holiday calendar and only the secular events – such as the Fête nationale on July 14th or VE Day on May 8th – should remain.

However, by the time secularism was formally codified into law in 1905 there was already a fairly fixed calendar of holidays and festivals – although this had already been slimmed down under the Napoleonic government in 1802 – and suddenly axing popular festivals was likely to go down pretty badly with the population at large.

Essentially then, this was a pragmatic compromise between tradition and secularism and over the years politicians have been understandably reluctant to tell the French they must lose their holidays.

But it’s noticeable that all the religious festivals in the calendar are Christian ones, and while this may reflect France’s history it’s not so representative of the current demographics, where an estimated 10 percent of the population either practice the Muslim faith or have a Muslim family background.

So could we see a scenario when we knock Ascension on the head but make Eid a public holiday?

It’s theoretically possible – in 2015 the French parliament voted through an amendment that would allow the départments of France’s Overseas Territories (Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion and French Guiana) to switch a Catholic bank holiday for another religious celebration to suit different faiths in the local population.

However none of the overseas départements has yet made that move. 

A fresh amendment would be required to make the same move in mainland France, and there appears to be little political appetite for that at present.

What are France’s public holidays? 

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Monday, only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
  • Easter Monday (movable date)
  • May 1st: May Day
  • May 8th: VE Day
  • May 26th: Ascension Day
  • Pentecost (movable date and no longer an official holiday)
  • July 14th – Bastille Day
  • August 15th – Assumption
  • November 1st – All Saints
  • November 11th – Armistice Day
  • December 25th – Christmas
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)