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HEALTH

French Prime Minister asks people in France to self-isolate for eight days before Christmas

Those planning to spend their Christmas holiday together with extended family or friends should self-isolate and keep their children home from school from Thursday, French authorities have said.

French Prime Minister asks people in France to self-isolate for eight days before Christmas
Christmas decorated streets of Bordeaux, southwest France, filled up with pedestrians on November 28th when the French government eased lockdown and let shops reopen. Photo: AFP

“If you can. . . (you should) self-isolate for eight days before Christmas,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Tuesday, referring to new advice from the country’s Scientific Council, which was set up in spring to advise the government on its Covid-19 measures.

“Especially if you are going to being seeing vulnerable people over Christmas,” Castex told Europe 1 on Tuesday morning, adding: “If you can not send your children to school on Thursday and Friday, you do it.”

On the morning of December 15th – the day France eased its lockdown and replaced it with a nationwide nighttime curfew – the Scientific Council published a note where they asked those planning to travel over Christmas to self-isolate for a week beforehand.

Here's what is suggested

  • Anyone planning to travel, especially those visiting people in a high risk group such as the elderly, should self-isolate for eight days before travel
  • Children can miss the final days of the school term if necessary to complete their self-isolation period
  • Pre-travel testing is only recommended for certain groups
  • These are recommendations, not rules

READ ALSO: Lockdown lifting: What kind of Christmas can we expect in France this year?

 

Prime Minister Jean Castex made clear the risks of epidemic resurgence if people relax preventive health measures during the Christmas break. Photo: AFP

School absences “tolerated”

Schools in France break up for the holidays on Saturday, December 19th, but the Scientific Council asked anyone who could to keep their children at home the two preceding days in order to leave a period of eight days from then until Christmas.

Absences these two days will be “tolerated”, the education ministry told AFP. Parents must however warn the school if they intend to keep their children at home.

“It’s not an obligation.. . It’s a recommendation,” Castex said, responding to the Europe 1 journalist's question of why authorities had not published this advice sooner, potentially making it hard for parents to organise themselves in order to keep their children and themselves at home.

What about tests?

Some people are planning to get tested before travel, but the Scientific Council warned against a “false security” regarding the Covid-19 test and asked those without any symptoms to not get tested unless they were identified as a contact case.

Health Minister Olivier Véran said the same during last week's press conference, when the government laid out the road ahead for the holiday period.

“Please don't use the test as a kind of totem of immunity, it's risky for you and for your loved ones,” Véran said then.

READ ALSO: Should you get a Covid-19 test in France before travelling over Christmas?

 

Symptomless people who were not identified as a contact case should rather reinforce health measures and reduce social contacts outside the holiday celebrations, the Council noted.

An increasing number of pharmacies are now offering the fast-result antigen test on a walk-in basis.

The Council said that while this could be useful for people who had been exposed to risk in the preceding eight days – such as working in an office or travelling on public transport – it should not replace health measures and mask-wearing.

'Extreme caution' to prevent a resurgence

France has seen Covid-19 rates stagnate following weeks of dropping daily case numbers, and authorities have expressed worry that the virus could spiral out of control again over the holidays.

The government decided to lift lockdown despite not having reached the initially set threshold of less than 5,000 new cases per day. The past week, national health authorities have reported some 13,000 new cases per day (13,662 on average in the three days preceding Monday) – nearly three times the set goal.

“The balance is fragile,” the Scientific Council noted, adding that it “urges us to be extremely cautious” as people prepare for Christmas celebrations, with some travelling to visit family in different regions, elevating the risk of spreading the virus.

The Council also reminded people to respect the “rule of six” adults around the dinner table, which is the official recommended limit (although not a legally binding rule).
 
Vocab

Auto-confinement – self-isolation

Dépistage – testing

Se faire tester – to get tested

S'isoler – isolate oneself

Prudence – caution

Réveillon – Christmas Eve

 

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HEALTH

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

An investigation has revealed that tap water supplied to some 12 million people in France was sometimes contaminated with high levels of pesticides last year.

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

Data from regional health agencies, and collated by Le Monde, found that supplies to about 20 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent the year previously, failed to consistently meet regional quality standards. 

The study highlighted regional differences in tap water quality. Hauts-de-France water was the most likely to be affected, with 65 percent of the population there drinking water contaminated by unacceptable pesticide levels. In Brittany, that level fell to 43 percent; 25.5 percent in the Grand-Est, and 25 percent in the Pays de la Loire.

Occitanie, in southwest France, meanwhile, showed the lowest level of non-compliance with standards, with just 5.1 percent of the region’s population affected by high pesticide levels in their tap water. However, figures show that 71 percent of people in one département in the region, Gers, were supplied with water containing high levels of pesticides.

Regional discrepancies in testing, including what chemicals are tested for, mean that results and standards are not uniform across France. Tap water in Haute-Corse is tested for 24 pesticide molecules; in Hauts-de-Seine, that figure rises to 477. 

One reason for regional testing standards are differences in local agricultural requirements.

Part of the increase in the year-on-year number of households supplied with affected water may also be explained by the fact that tests in many regions now seek to trace more molecules, Le Monde noted.

Water quality standards in France are strict – with a limit for pesticide residues set at 0.1 microgramme per litre, so the “high” levels found in tap water supplies may not represent a danger to health.

The question of the level of health risk to humans, therefore, remains unclear. The Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) has not defined a maximum safety level for 23 pesticides or their metabolites. Le Monde cites two metabolites of chloridazone, a herbicide used until 2020 on beet fields, for which only provisional safety levels in tap water have been set. 

Many of these molecules and their long-term effects remain unknown – and “the long-term health effects of exposure to low doses of pesticides are difficult to assess,” admits the Ministry of Health.

Michel Laforcade, former director general of the ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine told Le Monde that health authorities have “failed” on this subject. 

“One day, we will have to give an account,” he said. “It may not be on the same scale as the contaminated blood affair, but it could become the next public health scandal.”

In December 2020, the Direction générale de la santé (DGS) recommended “restricting uses of water” as soon as the 0.1 micrograms per litre quality threshold is exceeded, in cases of residues for which there is no formal maximum health value.

But this principle is not always applied, according to France 2’s Complètement d’enquête programme.

In December 2021, the DGS asked the Haut conseil de la santé publique (HCSP) “for support on the management of health risks associated with the presence of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in water intended for human consumption.”

The HCSP, in response, said that “an active and urgent policy must be implemented to reduce the contamination of resources by pesticides”.

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