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HEALTH

IN DETAIL: Are France’s latest Covid stats good enough to avoid a third lockdown?

With the French prime minister set to give yet another Covid speech this evening, we take a look at the latest epidemic data to see whether a third nationwide lockdown remains avoidable.

IN DETAIL: Are France's latest Covid stats good enough to avoid a third lockdown?
Police walk past a closed café in Paris on February 3rd, to ensure compliance with health rules aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Jean Castex and several other ministers will give another live Covid update at 6pm on Thursday, to lay out the next steps for France as the virus continues to circulate across the country.

This will be the last such scheduled announcement ahead of the February school holidays, which begin in some parts of France on Saturday.

READ ALSO February holidays in France – what are the rules and the latest advice?

“The situation remains fragile,” government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said following the Defence Council meeting on Wednesday, but “lockdown is not inevitable.”

That, however, will depend on how the epidemic develops in the coming days and weeks.

Here's a look at what the latest numbers indicate.

Prime Minister Jean Castex and Olivier Véran will both be at Thursday's press conference. Photo: AFP

Cases

Covid-19 cases have been rising for weeks, but at a slow and steady pace.

Health authorities recorded 26,362 new cases on Wednesday, 23,337 on Tuesday, 4,347 on Monday (cases drop on Mondays due to reduced testing on Sundays) and 19,235 on Sunday. 

This week's case numbers increased by 1 percent compared to last week.

 

Looking at the weekly average, it has risen from around 18,000 cases per week in early January to over 20,000 now.

It’s the first time the Covid growth rate has kept stable for so long at such a high level of spread, which is likely due to the curfew and other health measures in place.

Hospitals

Hospital patient numbers too have risen slowly and steadily for weeks now. 

On Wednesday, a total of 27,955 patients were in hospital for Covid in France. That was 116 fewer than the day before, but followed weeks of nearly uninterrupted growth since January 10th (see graph below).

Graph: French government

Hospitals are under less critical pressure than at the height of the first and second waves of the virus. When patient numbers peaked in early April and early November they exceeded 32,000.

However, staff have been under sustained pressure for months, without seeing a similar drop in patients to this summer, as total patient numbers have exceeded 24,000 since November 1st.

Intensive care units have also seen the number of patients rise steadily since early January, with a nearly uninterrupted – albeit slow – growth that began on January 7th.

Graph: French government

France had 3,277 patients in intensive care wards on Wednesday, which was three less than the day before, but following a rise of 6 percent in one week.

 

Covid patients on Wednesday occupied 64.6 percent of the total national intensive care capacity, but some areas of eastern France have reported that their intensive care wards are nearly saturated.

Graph: French government

South east France is the hardest hit with a pressure exceeding 90 percent in the départments of Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Var and Vaucluse. Hospitals in NIce have been forced to transfer ICU patients out of the region.

New variants

The big uncertainty at the moment is how much the new variants – the ones first registered in the UK and South Africa – of the virus will impact the rise in spread in the coming weeks.

Health authorities are still establishing how fast they are spreading, conducting “flash studies” every couple of weeks to determine their growth rate.

According to the latest study, new variants now account for 14 percent of the total new cases on January 26th and 27th, up from 3.3 percent on January 7th-8th and 1 percent at the beginning of the new year.

“It is not explosive, it is linear and continuous,” Bruno Lina, a virologist and member of the Scientific Council, told the French TV channel BFM in Lyon, the city where the lab analysing the new variants is located. 

Lina, who is in charge of these studies, said there were big regional differences as to how much the variants had spread across France, with the greater Paris region Île-de-France seeing particularly high levels.

While these are just preliminary results, they indicate an exponential spread of the new variants, increasing by around 60 percent per week – less than the 70-100 percent weekly increase registered in other countries that do not have a night time curfew and other restrictions France has.

The government is hoping that the current measures – the 6pm curfew, keeping cultural establishments closed alongside bars, restaurants, gyms and others and asking everyone to work from home if they can – will be enough.

No one can know whether it will be, but, one government adviser told Le Parisien: “For now, it holds.”

 

 

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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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