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‘Absolutely necessary’: France reluctantly begins another spell of strict lockdown

It was expected, but far from welcome. So what's the mood like in France as the country enters another period of lockdown where the pubic have been ordered to stay at home.

'Absolutely necessary': France reluctantly begins another spell of strict lockdown
Bar-goers stand outside a bar in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on October 29, 2020, prior to a new national lockdown in France. AFP

President Emmanuel Macron announced the lockdown on Thursday evening, in a live televised speech to the nation where he urged the country to stick together and support each other through this “difficult time.”

But as soon as the president finished speaking, critics slammed him and his government for having waited too long, done too little, with the result that the country now having to suffer through another period of confinement, with the consequences that followed.

“We lost a month and a half in protective measures that could have stemmed the spread of the virus. Today, there is no other solution, it is too late. The second wave is the failure of the test, trace, isolate strategy,” Eric Ciotti, a member of parliament for Les Républicains (LR), told the French Senate.

But when The Local asked our readers in a Twitter poll to voice their opinion on second lockdown measures, an overwhelming majority turned out in favour of the lockdown, even though some readers have expressed doubt about the rules.

 

“Unfortunately, it is absolutely necessary,” said Ricky J. Marc in a comment on the poll.

“But it will lead to nothing if the measures are not managed like in New Zealand,” he said, specifying that “we need a truly centralised authority” to manage the treatment strategy and logistics.

 


Stores and businesses across France were filled on Thursday by people racing to get supplies – and maybe a last-minute haircut – ahead of a new coronavirus lockdown coming into effect at midnight.

Essentials like pasta and toilet paper were in high demand, as were printer ink and electronics for working from home, while yoga mats were no longer to be found at many sporting goods stores.

“I'm stocking up, since we don't know when this will end,” Catherine Debeaupuis told AFP while shopping at an electronics retailer in central Paris.

Like others in a crowded Paris supermarket, Mourad Amarouche was loading up on toilet paper and pasta for his family.

“Just one of each, we're going to stay calm,” he told AFP. “There won't be any shortages, but I'm hoping not to have come back tomorrow, when there will be tons of people.”

Hairdressers were turning away desperate customers, many of whom were not convinced the lockdown would ease on December 1st as Macron said he hoped.

“Give me something that will last for a while,” Oulaya, a 50-year-old woman who managed to get a spot at the Angelo Capelli salon on the Place de la République in eastern Paris.

At the sprawling La Defense business district west of the capital, employees made a final commute to transfer landlines to mobile phones or give office plants a last watering.

Several people pulled suitcases to empty out their offices of important files or laptops.

This lockdown, which will enter into effect on Friday, October 30th, will not be as restrictive as the one the country went through this spring.

Schools, and necessary services will remain open, but people will not be able to leave their homes unless it is essential, and walks and exercise will be limited to a 1km radius.

READ ALSO: What are the rules of France's second coronavirus lockdown?

Julie Cain, a retired teacher, said she agreed that the lockdown was necessary but “can’t understand why schools remain open.”

Cosy Powell, a mother of two daughters, also said she believed that schools should be closed. “I have to make four journeys a day to take my daughters to school, I have to get out of the car to walk to the school gates,” she said.

 

But closing schools was judged too detrimental by the government, since children only returned to class in September, and many struggled to follow remote lessons.

This is why Léo, 23, a high school supervisor, fully supports the opening of schools, despite worrying about the pupils’ and teachers’ health.

“Reinforced health measures in schools sound vague and complicated to implement,” he told The Local. “The problem is that the infrastructure does not allow to welcome pupils safely.”

While the government has promised to maintain economic support schemes set up during the first lockdown to help businesses survive, many worry that another temporary slow-down of the economy could have disastrous consequences for those already struggling.

Alexandra, 24, who works in the fashion industry, told The Local that she supported a second lockdown but still felt a little depressed:

“I have lost my job because of the health situation,” she said. “Life sucks right now.”

In the restaurant business too, the decision was met with despair.

“In my family we are all waiters. Financially it is a disaster. I am 46 years old..  I just want to go home and cry,” one waitress told France Bleu.

According to a poll conducted by French broadcaster LCI, 68 percent of spectators thought Emmanuel Macron was convincing in his speech. That was 8 percentage points lower than after his speech announcing the first lockdown, but still high.

Moreover, 77 percent said they supported the lockdown. Only 2 percent said they would not obey it.

“The news of a second lockdown was more unexpected compared to last time, so the fact that we have more than two thirds of French people saying the French president was convincing shows that at least part of this measure has succeeded,” pollster Jean-Daniel Lévy told LCI.

France is currently at around 30,000 daily infections, according to official figures. The virus has exploded across the territory, with Sunday October 25th recording a new record of over 52,000 positive Covid-19 infections in a day.

READ ALSO: Why France's second wave of Covid-19 is very different to the first

In the last week of October hospitals were admitting over 2,000 new Covid-19 patients every day, up from 650 on September 30th, and intensive care wards in several parts of the countries are in danger of being overwhelmed. The president said Covid-19 patients now occupied over half of the national intensive care capacity.

 “If we did nothing… within a few months we would have at least 400,000 additional deaths,” Macron said.

While it seems like the country mostly supports taking stricter measures, they don't necessarily agree on the timeline set by the government.

Epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola told French radio RTL that “four weeks might be too short”. Five thousand daily infections will be the signal for “when to lift the lockdown”, she said.  

And the French seem to be skeptical too, having drawn lessons from the first lockdown, which lasted much longer than initially planned.

Of those responding to the LCI poll, 80 percent – eight out of 10 – said they expected that the lockdown would go on for longer than December 1st.

Many Parisians said they were hoping to flee to country homes or other havens to ride out the lockdown – the national traffic agency reported unusually large traffic jams in the capital Wednesday evening, just before Macron spoke.

Others were resigned to long hours stuck at home.

“I just bought some incredibly expensive 'zen' candles to feel better when I come home,” Mehdi Lacheb, a 34-year-old pharmacist, told AFP.

“So I can forget the little twinge of sorrow when we'll again see all these sad streets, empty, and no more terraces,” he said.

Member comments

  1. It’s not surprising but it’s very sad that huge numbers of people have already been infected or died because of a lack of commonsense. The distancing should never have been 1 metre: at least 2, as in the UK is needed.

    In my nearest village in Normandy mask wearing is haphazard even in a small shop. People still lean into each other’s faces to talk without a mask. The sanitiser outside the supermarket & brico isn’t used & I’m not sure the trollies & baskets are cleaned. The boss in a local shop doesn’t wear a mask even though space is cramped, nor does his cashier. It’s a village but the stats show that infection rates are high there and in the surrounding communes.

    If you have any clout at The Local can you forward a message to ask for distancing to be increased? It’s not being a kill joy, it’s trying to help get back to joie de vivre. Thanks.

  2. hey team Local – update your first sentence. He spoke Wednesday night. Know you guys are working hard to get the content out but just a helpful edit from one jounarlist to another..

  3. There is no evidence that a lockdown of this nature works, except to reduce peoples lives to a misery, especially those with small businesses. The correlation between government action and the propagation of the virus is zero.
    Sweden shows us how simple, well followed actions work. Deaths there yesterday – zero.

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STRIKES

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.

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