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HEALTH

No return to lockdown but plans for earlier curfew, announces France’s health minister

France will not - as many had feared - be returning to lockdown in the near future, the health minister has announced.

No return to lockdown but plans for earlier curfew, announces France's health minister
Health minister Olivier Véran. Photo: AFP

The worsening Covid-19 situation in several regions and the convening of the country's Defence Council for a meeting had led to widespread speculation that extra health restrictions would shortly be announced.

But instead, health minister Olivier Véran announced on TV channel France 2 that there will be a consultation on extra measures for the worst affected areas only, including a 6pm curfew.

The eastern parts of France are seeing considerably higher numbers than the west of the country, but on a national level case numbers and hospital numbers remain stable.

READ ALSO Which areas of France are worst affected as Covid-19 cases rise?

He said: “We've been on a plateau for about three weeks, with about 15,000 new cases a day. So we are still too high. Hospital pressure remains high. There are significant regional disparities.”

 

However he added that case numbers were not, for the moment, increasing.

Véran said that the Council had therefore decided not to reintroduce lockdown.

Instead a consultation with local authorities in the worst-hit areas has begun and will centre on the introduction of a 6pm-6am curfew. This would be applied only in the worst-affected départements and metropole areas, not on a regional level.

But although there will be no new lockdown, Véran would not be drawn on whether cinemas, theatres and cultural centres could reopen as planned on January 7th, saying that the government wanted to see data showing whether the Christmas holidays have led to a spike in cases.

He said:  “We need to see the effect of Christmas, possibly of the New Year. By the beginning of January we'll see more clearly.”

France's Covid-19 case numbers peaked at 50,000 new cases per day at the end of October, before falling sharply as the second lockdown took effect.

They fell to around 12,000 a day by the end of November, but since then have plateaued and have never got close to the government's target of 5,000 a day.

Reporting of both case numbers and death rates has been a little erratic over the holiday period, but Véran said there had been a slight rise in the last week, but this could be down to a huge spike in testing before the Christmas holidays.

The week before Christmas 3 million people were tested, a 74 percent increase on the previous week and the highest test numbers in Europe. The majority of those getting tested were asymptomatic – in general people getting a test as a precaution before travelling to spend Christmas with friends or relatives.

The French government has been concerned about a 'Christmas effect' of a spike in cases resulting from people travelling and spending the holiday period with friends and relatives, but this effect will only become apparent in next week's data.

Curfew

The government's proposal, which is being discussed with local authorities, is for a 6pm to 6am curfew in badly-hit areas, starting from January 2nd. The rest of the country would remain on the current 8pm to 6am curfew.

 

The curfew would be applied in départements and metropoles – cities and their surrounding suburbs – where case numbers are high, but not to entire regions.

 

There are 20 départements that could potentially be affected by the earlier curfew; Allier, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Ardèche, Ardennes, Aube, Doubs, Jura, Marne, Haute-Marne, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, Nièvre, Haut-Rhin, Haute-Saône, Saône-et-Loire, Vosges, Yonne and Territoire de Belfort.

What next?

For those areas not affected by the 6pm curfew, the same rules remain in place.

The whole country is under an 8pm to 6am curfew and all bars, restaurants, cafés, gyms, theatres, cinemas, museums and cultural centres remain closed.

However people no longer need a permission form to leave their homes and socialising is again allowed, although gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed in public places – apart from demonstrations and religious services. People are recommended to keep private social gatherings to a maximum of six people and continue to observe precautions such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

The key date is January 7th – by then the government must decide whether to reopen cultural spaces or not.

Cultural centres such as cinemas, museums and tourist attractions had originally been due to reopen on December 15th, but this was delayed when case numbers failed to fall below 5,000 a day.

The provisional reopen date was given as January 7th, if the health situation allows. Bars, restaurants, cafés and gyms were scheduled to reopen on January 20th, although again this will only happen if the health situation is good enough.

By January 7th the effect, if any, of the Christmas holidays will also be apparent. 

Member comments

  1. Does this child even know what he is doing? He’s like the rest of Macron’s posse no experience and scared stiff of the mob. Being a politician is not about pleasing people to garner votes but about being able to make hard decisions that are unpopular for the good of a country.

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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