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HEALTH

Curfew or lockdown: What will the French government announce on Thursday?

Reconfinement has been the word on everyone's lips this week as speculation mounts that France could be looking at another lockdown. So what can we expect from Thursday's announcement?

Curfew or lockdown: What will the French government announce on Thursday?
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

The French government will hold a press conference on Thursday at 6pm to discuss the latest health situation and the possibility of introducing extra restrictions.

New data

There are two key bits of information that the government has been keenly focused on this week – any evidence of a 'Christmas spike' in cases and the prevalence of the new Covid variant – le variant anglais as it is known in France – which is said to be more infectious.

Cases numbers have been rising in recent days, yesterday 19,752 new cases were recorded and weekly average figures have risen from roughly 13,000 a day in December to above 18,000 a day. There does not so far, however, appear to be evidence of a marked spike linked to travel and socialising over the Christmas holidays, but more data will be available on Thursday.

Likewise the government is nervously tracking the progress of the variant anglais, with clusters identified in multiple towns and estimates of several thousand cases in France. Travel from the UK has been heavily restricted since December 22nd, but there are concerns that the virus could have been circulating in France before then.

Jean-François Delfraissy, the head of France's Scientific Council, has declared himself “very worried” about the new variant.

Jean-François Delfraissy, head of the advisory Scientific Council. Photo: AFP

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After examining this data, the government will the need to make decisions on what health restrictions are needed to contain the situation.

The reopening of cultural centres likes cinemas and theatres, scheduled for January 7th, has been postponed and the reopening of bars, restaurants and gyms, which had a tentative date of January 20th, has also been put back until at least February.

In 25 départements with high rates of Covid cases and pressure on hospitals an earlier 6pm curfew has been introduced while the rest of the country remains under an 8pm-6am curfew.

MAP The 25 départements of France with a 6pm curfew

The government will need to decide if these measures are adequate to contain cases or whether new ones are needed.

Here are some of their options:

Lockdown

The government could opt for a third lockdown. France imposed its second lockdown in October, earlier than most other European countries, and is as a consequence seeing better numbers than many of its neighbours.

The second lockdown ended on December 15th, although many restrictions remain in place. 

Prime Minister Jean Castex says that all options remain on the table, but government spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio: “At this stage, there is no reconfinement planned”.

Expert opinion seems quite divided on the subject. Several epidemiologists have called for a third lockdown, with Eric Billy, a researcher in immuno-oncology and member of the Du Côté de la Science collective, declaring: “The third wave is coming, it's too late. All that's left to do now is to hit the emergency brake and lock down again.”

On the other hand, other experts argue that it is too early to take such drastic action.

Delfraissy, whose committee provides scientific advice to the government, has said that he does not believe now is the moment for a third lockdown, but that tougher measures should be discussed.

He said: “It's a paradox in France, we are in a better situation than other European countries, but the figures are stagnating.”

When France imposed its second lockdown in October cases were at 50,000 a day – significantly higher than the 23,852 reported on Wednesday.

Local lockdown

If a new nationwide lockdown is ruled out, then local restrictions could be put in place.

At present the situation is markedly worse in several areas of eastern France than in the centre or west of the country.

In the Grand Est, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regions case numbers are high and pressure on local hospital services severe – hospitals in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes have already begun transferring patients to other areas because of the pressure on services.

The southern towns of Nice and Marseille are also causing concern.

The earlier 6pm curfew is already in force in 25 départements but this could be extended or other local restrictions put in place.

The government tried localised restrictions over the summer and it was not very successful, but local authorities in some badly-affected areas are already calling for extra restrictions or local lockdowns.

Weekend lockdown

According to Le Figaro newspaper, another option on the table is a weekend lockdown, with curfew remaining in place during the week.

The idea is to keep the economy and schools running relatively normally during the week, but prevent people from gathering for social reasons at the weekend.

Curfew

According to the latest reports in French media, this is the most likely option.

France remains under a nationwide 8pm to 6am curfew which has been extended past its original end date of January 20th.

However 25 départements have an earlier 6pm to 6am curfew and the government is considering extending this to the rest of France.

Teachers and all pupils older than six wear masks at school. Photo: AFP

Schools

Amid discussions of whether schools should close, Delfraissy says the Scientific Council recommends that they stay open, but with extra health precautions in place.

France kept its schools open during the second lockdown, and president Emmanuel Macron has several times said that closing schools again would be an absolute last resort, pointing out that closures most impact pupils in disadvantaged groups.

READ ALSO ANALYSIS: How France has managed to keep its schools open during lockdown 

French schools already have a lot of health protocols in place including strict mask-wearing rules for teachers and pupils over the age of six.

However other measures being considered are the closure of school canteens and the suspension of sports and activities.

Delfraissy said individual classes should close down immediately at the appearance of a Covid-19 case among the pupils, if the case in question was of the variant first discovered in the UK. Currently the threshold for the entire class to close down is three Covid cases.

Travel

Entry to France from the UK is currently heavily restricted and a negative Covid test is essential to enter the country. These rules will remain in place 'until further notice' the Prime Minister announced on January 7th. However, travel from within the EU and Schengen one carries no such requirements.

France could opt to impose a testing regime on arrivals from all countries.

 

Member comments

  1. If the weekend lockdown allows for an hour of fresh air at night – I’m all for it!
    With 18:00 curfew I can’t risk going for a walk with all the crowds outside at the same time – so I’m now more isolated than in confinement…

  2. Thanks to The Local IT for keeping us updated on people entering France from the UK.
    I would also love to hear news on people from other countries entering France please.
    Aside from the UK, I also have family & friends coming from Italy and South Africa. Thanks.

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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