Frustration and resignation as weary French begin new lockdown

After enduring two months of lockdown between March and May in a bid to squeeze the coronavirus, there was a weary sense of deja-vu in France on Friday as people contemplated going through it all again for at least a month, and maybe even to Christmas and beyond.

Frustration and resignation as weary French begin new lockdown
French police officers are again in charge of making sure everyone has a good reason to be outside. Photo: AFP.

The new lockdown added to an already grim mood in France after three attacks in recent weeks blamed on Islamist extremists, the latest the killing of three people inside a church in Nice on Thursday.

There are important differences to the spring this time, most crucially that children will be returning to school after the autumn break, rather than staying home as in the previous lockdown.

And while nonessential businesses are to close, some were still open on Friday.

Costume stores will close from Halloween. Photo: AFP

At least four shops – a shoe store, a dry cleaners, a mobile phone store and a Nespresso boutique – welcomed clients at midday on a busy pedestrian street in the Passy neighbourhood of western Paris.

There was also a steady flow of traffic around central Paris, even if public transport was less clogged than usual, raising concern among medics over whether the public would take this round of the lockdown seriously.

Traffic on the Champs-Elysées avenue today, not very different from normal days/Photo: AFP

“Crossing Paris this morning looks more like an ordinary day than the first day of a lockdown,” the director of Paris hospitals Martin Hirsch wrote on Twitter.

“Lots is at stake now if we are to avoid being overwhelmed.”

'Tolerance of police'

Trains from the provinces back to Paris were busy after President Emmanuel Macron made clear that there would be a period of grace to allow families to return home after the autumn break.

But in the other direction, hundreds of kilometres of traffic jams formed in Paris late Thursday as worried residents of the capital sought to flee in the hours before the lockdown took effect.

The Sytadin traffic site said that there were over 700 kilometres of traffic jams in the Paris region late Thursday, when electronic signs on the Paris ring road bore grim warnings for drivers of had an hour to go before the next exit.

The train station in the northern city of Lille was bustling quietly in the morning as travellers hurried back to Paris. Police looked on but without making overt controls.

“I had planned for a long time to spend some days in Lille then the weekend in Paris,” said Serge, a 62-year-old pensioner who plans to return home to Avignon on Monday.

“I am counting on the tolerance of the police,” he said. 

Open markets are allowed as well as supermarkets/Photo: AFP


'No hysteria'

Yet the reality remained that within a space of months France has gone from “confinement” (lockdown), to “deconfinement” as the measures were relaxed over the summer, to “reconfinement.”

As previously, the basic rules are simple and strict. People can go out only on essential business or for exercise, for no more than one hour and within a one-kilometre radius of their homes, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

And like in spring, every movement outside needs to be justified by filling out an authorisation form, either by hand or online.

Worried social media users posted pictures of supermarket shelves empty of the essentials, but executives insisted there would be no shortages.

The president of the Intermarche chain, Thierry Cotillard, said his supermarkets had been busier than normal but denied there had been any “hysteria.”

Home entertainment and electrical goods giant Fnac-Darty said it was keeping stores open by benefitting from an exemption that allows people to buy goods for home-working.

FNAC stores can remain open during the lockdown. Photo: AFP 

People at its Paris store were buying more than just office chairs. “I bought two pairs of headphones, for my mom and me,” said Fabrice Angelique, 18, at the multi-storey Fnac store near the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris.

“I am happy. We don't have the choice, we are obliged to live, do our shopping and behave as if it is normal even if there are some safety measures,” he said.

According to a poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting for France Info and daily Le Figaro, seven out of 10 in France are in favour of the new lockdown.

But some angry French took to the streets of Paris late Thursday for an unauthorised protest to condemn the new measures as overly drastic.

“We shouldn't overdo it. From midnight tonight we must all be at home, it's too much,” said one protester, who gave her name as Laura.

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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.

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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.