Is the Paris region set to avoid a weekend lockdown?

Is the Paris region set to avoid a weekend lockdown?
French police try to disperse Parisians who gathered along the banks of the Seine last weekend. Photo: Thomas Coex / AFP
The greater Paris region Île-de-France initially looked set to be among the 20 areas of France subject to new weekend lockdowns, but if the latest French media reports are to believed the capital and surrounding départements will escape the restriction, despite local Covid-19 rates soaring above the maximum alert threshold.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold another Covid-19 press conference on Thursday at 6pm together with Health Minister Olivier Véran – which we will follow live here – and is expected to announce tougher restrictions in some parts of France where infection rates are soaring and hospitals struggling to cope.

But of the 20 départements placed on “heightened alert” last week, only “a handful” will be subject to a weekend lockdown when the PM makes his statement on Thursday evening.

At least that’s according to several French media sites, who reported on Wednesday evening that the greater Paris region of Île-de-France will escape the tough new measures – at least for now.

Those reports were all based on information from government sources.

“We really only want to use a weekend lockdown as a last resort,” one government source told French media.

Despite the French media reports a source from Paris City Hall told The Local that Paris and the surrounding départements would only know its fate when Castex speaks.

“We don’t know for certain what the government will decide. Nothing is sure,” the source said.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo previously expressed her firm opposition to a potential weekend lockdown, which she said would be a “difficult, hard, even inhumane” measure for the region’s inhabitants.

The media reports that Paris might be let off the hook for a weekend lockdown caused a stir in northern Pas-de-Calais – which is the one département that according to reports looks certain for new weekend restrictions of the kind already imposed in the town of Dunkirk and parts of the French Riviera.

READ ALSO: ‘Difficult weeks ahead’: The parts of France that risk weekend lockdowns

The full list of the 20 départements are; Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Drôme, Essonne, Eure et Loir, Hauts-de-Seine, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Moselle, Nord, Oise, Paris, Pas-de-Calais, Rhône, Seine-et-Marne, Seine-Saint-Denis, Somme, Val d’Oise, Val-de-Marne, Var and Yvelines.

While the Pas-de-Calais Prefect earlier this week asked the government to impose a a weekend lockdown for a period of three weeks, some local officials now said it was unfair that their areas faced tougher restrictions if the Paris region escaped.

“It’s ridiculous,” Daniel Fasquell, mayor of Le Touquet in Pas-de-Calais, told French TV channel BFM. “We have the same incidence rate as certain departments of Île-de-France, yet they impose a lockdown in Pas-de-Calais while they don’t impose it on the Paris region because it will make people unhappy.”

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The incidence rate refers to the number of new positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants recorded over the past seven days. Across France, the incidence rate has risen since a slight drop in mid February, but in hard-hit areas such as Pas-de-Calais and Île-de-France the rate is high above the national average of 222. 

Pas-de-Calais’ incidence rate was 406.2 according to the latest official data available – well above the government’s alert threshold of 250. In Île-de-France the rate was lower in several départements – between 277.2 at the lowest in Hauts-de-Seine and 354.9 in Val-d’Oise – though Seine-Saint-Denis reported a rate similar to Pas-de-Calais of 405.5.

In Paris itself the infection rate was 322 on Wednesday.

For a detailed view of France’s incident rates per département, see the map below.

 
‘Only a last resort’

Faced with an enduring health crisis caused by a virus known to outlive even the strictest of lockdowns, Macron’s government has expressed a wish to shift away from a centralised approach over to a local one, which is why only some areas will likely get new restrictions tonight in addition to the existing national 6pm to 6am curfew.

But this approach is a risky one in France, where national governments frequently face criticism for bulldozing over local authorities with their Paris-based decisions.

Last autumn, the southern port-city of Marseille roared in protest when it had to close bars and restaurants while Paris got to keep them open, a scenario the government would like to avoid.

READ ALSO: Why have so many in Marseille rebelled against French government health measures?

Marseille and its surrounding département Bouches-du-Rhône, which has gone from repeatedly reporting some of the worst Covid numbers in France to doing relatively well in the greater Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (PACA) region, was reported to also escape a weekend curfew too, according to FranceInfo.

But, again, we have to wait until the 6pm press conference to know what actually will happen.


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