Are cross-border workers spreading coronavirus between Switzerland and France?

A Lyon doctor claims that cross-border workers are partly responsible for the increase in Covid-19 infections in Haute-Savoie and Ain, the French départments that border Switzerland.

Are cross-border workers spreading coronavirus between Switzerland and France?
French doctor claims cross-border workers are 'superspreaders''. Photo by AFP

“The movement between the Swiss cantons and  border regions likely has a direct effect on the spread of the epidemic in France,” radiologist Pierre-Jean Ternamian told 20 Minutes news portal.

Ternamian, who is the president of the health professionals union in Lyon, noted that the rate of infections in the two departments nearest to Geneva is among the highest in France. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is the latest Covid-19 situation in Switzerland?

He said the spike in numbers is caused, at least to some extent, by cross-border commuters who get infected in their Swiss workplaces and then bring the virus back to France.

As young people make up a large proportion of the regions' Covid cases, it is a sign that working-age cross-border commuters are among the most impacted population, Ternamian argues.

The Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France – which contains Haute-Savoie and Ain – is under serious pressure and has had to begin transferring the sickest Covid patients out of the area as hospital intensive care units reach maximum capacity. The French health minister on Thursday night confirmed that 61 ICU patients have been transferred from Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

However, health officials on the Swiss side deny this claim.

Laurent Paoliello, the spokesperson for the Geneva Department of Health, said that “there is no such thing as ‘Swiss effect’ on France”.

“Infection rates are the same on both sides of the border.”

He pointed out that Geneva and the surrounding areas of France form “one large conglomeration, with the population that is suffering from an epidemic without borders”.

Paoliello also emphasised that it is crucial to keep the border open; its closure during the first coronavirus wave in the spring was “a nightmare”, he said.

More than 125,000 workers from France are employed is the area around Lake Geneva, which encompasses the cantons of Geneva and Vaud.

They are essential to local economy, including the healthcare sector. 

At Geneva’s University Hospitals (HUG) alone, 60 percent of nurses and 9 percent of doctors are cross-border workers. 



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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.