Regional lockdowns in France – where next and will they work?

Regional lockdowns in France - where next and will they work?
Photo: AFP
Ever since the summer, France's health policy has been almost entirely conducted on a national level, but as more Covid hotspots appear there is increasing discussion of extra regional restrictions such as those in Nice and parts of the French Riviera, which has been placed under a weekend lockdown.

What’s happening with Covid cases?

Overall, numbers of new cases in France remain on the ‘high plateau’ that has been seen since December – an average of 20,000 new cases a day. Cases saw a slight fall last week to 18,000 a day, but are now showing a slight rise, while intensive care occupancy is also showing a slight rise to 67 percent.

However the overall picture hides an increasingly large regional variation, with ‘hotspots’ such as Nice and the northern town of Dunkerque showing an incidence rate of 700 and 900 cases per 100,000 respectively, far higher than the national average of 191.

So what’s the strategy to deal with this?

The government at the end of January ruled out, for the moment, a third national lockdown, but is now looking increasingly towards extra local restrictions in places that are badly affected.

READ ALSO: ‘Very worrying in 10 départements’ – France plans new local restrictions

On Monday a package of extra restrictions was announced for the Alpes-Maritime département including the closure of large shops and – for Nice and 62 other Riviera towns and suburbs – a weekend lockdown.

On Wednesday health minister Olivier Véran is travelling to Dunkerque to discuss possible extra restrictions with local authorities there. Véran last week travelled to the eastern département of Moselle, which had seen a high number of cases of the South African and Brazilian variants of the virus, but there no extra restrictions were imposed, just an increase in the vaccine programme.

Various government ministers have also spoken of a new regionalised approach, with president Emmanuel Macron reported as saying “given the situation it is better to regionalise”.

Where else could face restrictions?

Other than Nice and Dunkerque there are several other areas that are giving cause for concern, including the Paris area where cases have risen recently.

Moselle – the département remains a concern with an overall incidence rate of 315 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Despite the decision last week not to impose new restrictions, the situation is still being closely watched by both local and national health authorities.

Pas-de-Calais – the département that contains Dunkerque is also giving cause for concern, with an overall incidence rate of 340, while its neighbouring département of Nord is showing a particularly high rate of the UK variant of the virus.

Bouches-du-Rhône – the département that contains the city of Marseille has a high incidence rate of 331. There has been strong local resistance to certain health measures in Marseille – including the early imposition of the curfew – so this could be a challenge for the national government to negotiate.

Var – the neighbouring département of Var, sandwiched between Marseille and Nice, is also showing a high incidence rate of 306.

Paris – the greater Paris Île-de-France region is currently sitting just under the 300 per 100,000 people rate, but cases have increased sharply in the area over the last week. The area is currently nearing the end of a  two-week February school holiday and there is concern over whether the return of the many Parisians who have travelled for the holiday will increase rates still further.

Around 10 of France’s 101 départements were now in a “very worrying situation”, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.

He did not name the départements, but the the following 13 areas have infection rates of the 250/100,000 official level of alert; Alpes Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Moselle, Nord, Oise, Pas-de-Calais, Paris, Seine-et-Marne, Somme, Var, Essonne, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne.

Will regional restrictions work?

This is of course the crucial question. Over the summer and early autumn France tried a series of regional measures, including dividing the country into ‘red’ and ‘green’ zones with different restrictions. However none of these measures really worked and by the end of October the government was forced to impose a second national lockdown, which lasted until December 15th.

Expert opinion on the new policy seems divided.

Epidemiologist Catherine Hill wrote in l’Obs: “It’s a mistake to regionalise the restriction measures. Moreover, this has been the case since the beginning of the epidemic.

“First we were asked to be more careful in the red zones, then we introduced curfews in some departments, then everywhere in France. I don’t see why it would be different now.”

But Didier Guillmont, an epidemiologist based at the Pasteur Institute, seemed more hopeful, writing in Le Figaro: “Local lockdown is a track to be explored in view of the situation in which we find ourselves.

“This would make it possible to make economic and social activity compatible with the control of an epidemic whose end may not be seen for a long time.”

Despite not being under a national lockdown, France still has a lot of restrictions in place on a national level, including the 6pm to 6am curfew and the closure of all bars, restaurants, cafés, museums, cinemas, theatres, gyms and tourist sites.

All this means that there are not many extra measures that can be taken on a national level that fall short of a third lockdown.

Member comments

  1. Everyone with a brain cell knew that this would happen because of all the school holidays. Just restrict movement between departments.

  2. I wonder when the French Government is going to recover its sanity and let the medical profession prescribe medicines that work like Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin early on in the illness?

    1. Because the govt is following scientific advice that there is no evidence that either of those actually work against this virus – and either could actually do harm even if they are safe for treating other conditions.

    2. Dear r. harneis – Oh thank you so much for your comment. You make absolute sense! And I thought I was the only one thinking along those lines. THANKS!

  3. I think the last few years has taught us that expecting individuals to take responsibility is foolish at best. The reason governments have instituted lockdowns and restrictions is because the evidence has shown that expecting people to act responsibility does not work. The UK has been a prime example of this in Europe and the US a fine example to the world. Screaming about individual liberties whilst giving the two fingers to collective responsibility is the fast route to mutually assured destruction.

  4. It’s the passing it to others is the main concern, well it is to me. Mind you, by the time I get the vaccine the virus will have died out or I will have done.

  5. You state “Everyone has to get it through their heads that the French and all the other EU countries would be vaccinating like mad if they had the vaccine”.

    That’s absolute rubbish, Linda, where did you hear that? Most French are opposed to being vaccinated.

  6. Thanks for your reply, Boggy.

    Still doesn’t tell me why those people who have been “vaccinated” can’t go around freely doing their business? If they’re protected from the “really bad symptoms” then they’re not risking getting the “really bad symptoms”, isn’t it?

  7. Because all the vaccine does is protect you from developing the really bad symptoms it does not stop you from getting it or spreading it.

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