What lockdown scenarios are the French government considering?

As France braces for tighter restrictions to be imposed, here's a look at the different versions of lockdown the government is believed to be considering in order to get the second wave of Covid-19 under control.

What lockdown scenarios are the French government considering?
An employee takes a pile of chairs inside a closing bar on the place du Capitole, in Toulouse southwestern France, on October 24th, 2020 at the start of a curfew put in place to fight against the spre

France has seen the numbers of Covid-19 cases, hospital patients and critically ill spiral these past weeks.

“The situation is very difficult, even critical,” said Jean-François Delfraissy, President of the Scientific Council set up to advise the government on their Covid-19 policies.

“We knew there would be a second wave, but we have been shocked by the brutality of what's happened in the last 10 to 15 days,” Delfraissy told RTL radio in an interview where he outlined possible steps the government could take to curb the spread of the virus.

ANALYSIS: Can France no longer avoid a second nationwide lockdown?

“The faster we take measures, the faster they will be efficient,” Delfraissy said.

While the Scientific Council does not decide the government's politics they have a lot of clout, and since the beginning of the pandemic President Emmanuel Macron has listened attentively to their advice.

“We have to prepare for difficult decisions,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told French media on Tuesday.

“At some point we have to make hard choices… as our neighbours have,” he said, referring to tough new measures announced for Italy, Spain and elsewhere in Europe.


President Emmanuel Macron is hosting emergency on Tuesday and Wednesday to thrash out a strategy for the coming weeks

These are the main options they will be considering.

1. Total lockdown

The first option is a total, nationwide lockdown such as the one France imposed in March. Back then, the whole country was confined to their homes and only allowed out for short periods to run essential errands such as grocery shopping, medical appointments and walking the dog.

French political commentators say this is the least likely scenario because of the high economic and psychological costs that would entail.

“I think that Macron is desperate to avoid another complete lockdown – for economic reasons but also for reasons of public order. A second “confinement” would be resisted much more widely than the first,” The Local's political commentator John Lichfield said.

Delfraissy said the main goals of the government was to protect France's elderly and vulnerable and maintain economic activity, while at the same time reducing the spread of the virus. 

If the government were to impose a new lockdown, it would likely be adapted to the lessons drawn from this spring, avoiding to close down parts of society where the health gains were small compared to the economic and social costs – such as primary schools.

“It would probably allow for a certain level of educational activity and a certain number of economic activity,” Delfraissy said, adding that this kind of lockdown “could be set in place for a shorter period of time if it were to be introduced now.”

He also said this kind of lockdown would likely be followed by a period of curfew such as the one in place now.

READ ALSO What you need to know about France's nighttime curfew

Members of the French National police, CRS, check the form of of a woman in Toulouse wo was out after curfew hours. Photo: AFP


2. Local lockdowns

Another option is to continue the government's strategy to adapt measures to local conditions and introduce lockdowns in the country's hardest hit areas.

This would target areas with high levels of spread and areas where hospital struggle to cope with the pressure of new Covid-19 patients, such as Paris, Marseille and Lyon.

MAP These are the areas of France under curfew

“I'd rather have local lockdowns now than a nationwide lockdown at Christmas,” Damien Abad, parliament chief for the rightwing opposition Les Republicains, told France Info radio.

3. Weekend lockdowns

The third option would be a lighter and adapted version of lockdown, which could include measures such as a weekend confinement and an earlier curfew than the 9pm curfew currently in place in roughly half of the country.

“This would be much tougher than the curfew currently in place,” Delfraissy said about that option.

Such a strategy has received support from a group of doctors in Lyon, who called for a 7pm curfew and a weekend lockdown.

“The situation is serious and we cannot afford to take half-measures any longer,” they said in a press statement.

This strategy could also entail closing secondary schools, high schools and universities, such as suggested by Antoine Flahault, Director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva, which monitors the development of Covid-19 in the world.

“We already have taken lockdown measures, they might be sufficient,” he told French media.

“I don't think schools should reopen after the Toussaint holidays,” he said, adding that primary schools could keep open under stricter health rules such as introducing compulsory mask-wearing for children over six years old.


Jean Rottner, Head of the region Grand Est – the first French region to see hospitals overwhelmed with patients this spring – also has voiced support for such an alternative.

In a tweet he said he was “certain that we are headed towards a lockdown”, and proposed a list of even stricter measures to curb the spread – including limiting travel, more remote working and reserving public transport for professional purposes.

Time is running out

While there is still more unknowns than knowns about what lies ahead for France, one thing is certain: the government will need to decide quickly.

Macron is under pressure from hospitals and academics, several of whom are calling for swift and radical measures.

“It is extremely urgent to confine the country,” virologist Catherine Hill told French media.

“Failing to do so would guarantee that we run straight into the wall,” she said.

Infectious disease specialist Gilles Pialoux at Paris's Tenon hospital urged the government to adopt “a drastic measure, call it a lockdown” for the entire country, despite the economic toll.

“The economy can bounce back, but you don't bounce if intensive care fails,” he told French media.




Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body has outlined how Covid-19 rules will change on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules will relax in France as the country ends compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes will take effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

Manual widget for ML (class=”ml-manual-widget-container”)

Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 will return to normal on February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 will have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that will begin in February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.