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HEALTH

French health chief warns ‘peak of second wave is still to come’

As France entered day 10 of the strict, nationwide lockdown, French health chief warned the public that the peak of the second wave of the epidemic was still to come but he did deliver some more positive news.

French health chief warns 'peak of second wave is still to come'
A health worker looks at the new mobile field hospital installed in Toulouse, south of France, on November, 9th. Photo: AFP

“The peak of the epidemic is coming. The second wave is still progressing,” said Jérôme Salomon, Director General of France's public health agency Santé Publique France, during a press conference on Monday evening.

 

That day, French health authorities reported another 551 Covid-19 deaths in the country’s hospitals, a number that has steadily increased along with hospital patient numbers over the past weeks. 

France had been hoping to see decreasing Covid-19 rates this week as the country had entered its second week of nationwide lockdown over the weekend.

But epidemiologists and health authorities have warned it will take longer for the numbers to drop this time than it did during the lockdown imposed in March, because the rules are less rigid now and allow for more people to leave their homes more often.

READ ALSO ANALYSIS How long will France's second lockdown last

However, Salomon said there were improvements in areas that had been subject to a nighttime curfew before the lockdown, such as Paris.

“(In these regions) the virus is progressing more slowly. That's encouraging, and it motivates us to collectively continue our efforts to accentuate that movement,” the health chief said.

France reported 20,155 new cases on Monday, a steep drop from previous days when daily infections topped 60,000, however there have been issues with reporting the daily updates.

According to the government's Tousanticovid phone app the infection rate in France is 429 per 100,000 people – which is a slight drop from over 470 per 100,000 last week. The positivity rate of tests has dropped just below 20 percent (19.8 percent) from almost 21 percent last week.

Hospital numbers still on the rise

Health Minister Olivier Véran confirmed the same on Sunday, November 8th, when he told French radio there was “a form of slowing down” in the progression of the epidemic.

 

While hospital numbers were still on the rise, they were progressing less quickly, by 20 percent less than the week before, according to the health minister.

French hospitals on Monday reported in total 31,098 Covid-19 patients and 4,677 patients in intensive care units, up by 2,670 and 484 respectively from the day before. 

According to the government the current occupancy rate of ICUs is 92.5 percent.

While high, these numbers were not a lot higher than last week, seemingly breaking with the trend of rapidly increasing hospital rates.
 

 

“By the end of the week, we will have consolidated data,” Véran said, adding that “either way there will be an increase in hospitalisations and intensive care (admissions) in the coming day because that reflects the epidemic situation before the lockdown.”

READ ALSO Would the French accept being in lockdown over Christmas?

Will shops get to reopen this week?

When French President Emmanuel Macron announced the imminent nationwide lockdown to be imposed on October 30th, he said the situation would be reviewed in two weeks, which will be this coming weekend.

Every 15 days, the president said, government would decide on whether the situation had sufficiently improved so that some non-essential shops could reopen, or rather whether they needed to impose new restrictions.

French shop owners who were told to close down during the lockdown have been hopeful that things would look good enough in order for them to reopen their businesses soon.

But imminently relaxing the rules did not seem to be on the government's agenda this week, with Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire saying on Monday, November 9th, that he favoured a reopening of shops “before Christmas”.

“As soon as it is possible.. when health conditions are met, we will reopen all the businesses, also allowing openings Sunday openings so that [they] can catch up as much as possible on the income lost,” Le Maire told BFMTV.

France's currently lockdown runs until December 1st, but the government has been clear that it could be extended if the health situation demands it.

Hospitals have had to cancel other treatments despite ramping up patient transfers in between regions.

 

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POLITICS

‘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. 

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