France considers local lockdowns as Covid-19 numbers soar

France’s Covid-19 tallies continue to spike with 96 new deaths recorded over the past 24 hours, as the government mulled whether to impose local lockdowns in hotspots like Paris.

France considers local lockdowns as Covid-19 numbers soar
A hospital worker exits an intensive care unit at the Franco-Britannique hospital in Levallois-Perret, northern Paris. Photo: AFP

The French government's Defence Council will meet on Tuesday to discuss possible new measures to curb the rapid spread of the virus, which  has caused a mounting pressure on hospitals in big cities.

“We must take extremely draconian measures in terms of restraining society,” virologist Xavier Lescure told BFMTV on Monday, echoing a call for stricter rules that has become more common among health professionals in France lately.

French public health agency Santé Public France on Monday reported 96 new hospital fatalities caused by Covid-19, a grim record of the post-lockdown period that beat the previous record of 81 deaths on September 28th. (A spike on September 18th of 124 deaths included numbers from July).

Usually the death tally in France spikes on Mondays due to a weekend-lag in reporting deaths in hospitals, however this week’s number was higher than previous Mondays and followed a trend of rising death and hospital rates over the past weeks.

France’s hospitals counted 976 new admissions on Monday, which was more than the past seven day’s average of 764 patients per day.

Intensive care units admitted 171 new patients, more than the past seven-day average of 133. That meant the total number of intensive care patients had reached 1,539, a number unseen since May 27th, but still relatively low compared to the height of the pandemic in the end of April when hospitals counted over 7,000 intensive care patients.

The situation is especially bad in Paris, where intensive care units are rapidly filling up with Covid patients. Hospitals in the greater Paris region Île-de-France could reach a 70-90 percent of their total capacity by the end of the month, director of the AP-HP hospital group in the Ile-de-France, Martin Hirsch, told French media.

President Emmanuel Macron will be speaking live to the nation on Wednesday evening, just days after Prime Minister Jean Castex said local lockdowns “cannot be ruled out” if the situation does not improve in the country’s hospitals.

READ ALSO 'No more slackening' warns French PM as two more cities move to maximum Covid-19 alert

Pointing to the nine cities currently on “maximum alert” for Covid-19, Castex said the government was considered even stricter measures if the ones currently in place did not yield positive results in the fortnight for which these measures had been set in place.

“If in this period of 15 days we see that the situation deteriorates a lot, that the intensive care beds fill up even more than what was foreseen, we could take supplementary measures,” Castex said.

Jean-François Mattei, president of the Academie nationale de médicine, told French media: “We still have the possibility of avoiding total lockdown but we will go towards partial lockdown which could be geographically located or we could go towards a curfew, for example from 8pm to 5am.”


EXPLAINED How France's Covid-19 alert system works

In the Bouches-du-Rhône département, home to Marseille and one of the areas currently on “maximum alert”, local authorities asked for more resources to help police the city's bars and restaurants, after initial checks showed many were not correctly complying with the new, strict health rules in place.
France also reported 8,505 new Covid-19 cases and 55 additional clusters on Monday, bringing the total number of clusters under investigation up to 1,496.

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French doctors to stage more strikes in February

General practitioners in France are planning another industrial action that will see doctors' offices closed as they call for better investment in community healthcare.

French doctors to stage more strikes in February

Primary care doctors in France announced plans to strike again in February, after walkouts in December and over the Christmas-New Year holidays in early January.

The strike will take place on Tuesday, February 14th, and it comes just a few weeks ahead of the end-of-February deadline where France’s social security apparatus, Assurance Maladie, must reach an agreement to a structure for fees for GPs for the next five years.

Hospital doctors in France are largely barred from striking, but community healthcare workers such as GPs are self-employed and therefore can walk out. 

Their walk-out comes amid mass strike actions in February over the French government’s proposed pension reform. You can find updated information on pensions strikes HERE.

Previous industrial action led to widespread closures of primary care medical offices across the country. In December, strike action saw between 50 to 70 percent of doctor’s surgeries closed.

READ MORE: Urgent care: How to access non-emergency medical care in France

New concerns among GPs

According to reporting by La Depeche, in the upcoming strike in February primary care doctors will also be walking out over a new fear – the possibility of compulsory ‘on-call’ hours.

Currently, French GPs take on-call hours on a voluntary basis. Obligatory on-call time for primary care doctors was scrapped in the early 2000s after GPs mobilised against the requirement.

However, representatives from the Hospital Federation have called for it to be reinstated in order to help relieve emergency services.

Additionally, GPs are calling for Saturday shifts to considered as part of their standard working week, in order to allow for a two-day weekend.

Striking primary care doctors are more broadly calling for actions by the government and Assurance Maladie to help make the field more appealing to younger physicians entering the profession, as the country faces more medical deserts, and for working conditions to be improved.

Those walking out hope to see administrative procedures to be simplified and for the basic consultation fee – typically capped to €25 – to be doubled to €50.

In France patients pay the doctor upfront for a visit, and then a portion of the fee is reimbursed by the government via the carte vitale health card.