French Prime Minister extends weekend lockdown and promises more weekend vaccinations

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced the extension of the weekend lockdown to another area, while expanding the number of départements on 'alert level' because of their high numbers of Covid cases.

French Prime Minister extends weekend lockdown and promises more weekend vaccinations
Prime minister Jean Castex, left, and Olivier Véran. Photo: Ludovic Maran/AFP

Castex, revealing that 61 percent of all cases in France are now the UK variant, said: “The virus has continued to spread, but not as quickly as we feared.

“I am obviously not satisfied because it is still increasing, but it’s clear that we’re not – at least not at this stage – confronted with an exponential increase . . . as some models predicted and as we experienced during the first two waves (of the virus),” he said.

The northern French département of Pas-de-Calais will join Nice, Dunkirk and 62 towns and communes on the French Riviera in being subject to a weekend lockdown.

However the other 19 départements placed on ‘alert’ last week will not face a lockdown, although three other départements were added to the list of places causing concern.

The départements of Haut-Alpes, Aisne and Aube join 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 on the list of places with worryingly high case numbers (see map below).

In Pas-de-Calais, in addition to the weekend lockdown beginning from 8am on Saturday, March 6th, shops larger than 5,000 square metres will also close, with the exception of food shops and pharmacies.

The situation in the other alert départements “does not justify these steps” said Castex, but they will face other measures.

  • Shops larger than 10,000 square metres will close
  • Mask-wearing will become compulsory in the street in all areas where this is not already the case
  • Local authorities will be asked to regulate or ban access to areas where large groups of people gather

Castex also had two requests for people living in those 23 départements, although these are not legally enforced rules. He asked for people to limit their social contacts as far as possible and avoid travelling to a different département or region.

“We must make efforts to reduce our social contacts,” Castex said, stressing that particular attention should be given to the ‘rule of six’ the advisory (not compulsory) limit on adults in gatherings in private homes.

“We know this is when the virus is transmitted,” Castex said. “The images that we saw last weekend in the big cities, including in Paris, are simply not reasonable.”

The 23 départements will also receive extra doses of the vaccine to speed their vaccination programmes.

Health Minister Olivier Véran announced that from March 15th, pharmacies will start to administer the vaccine – this rollout will be of AstraZeneca vaccines to people aged between 50 and 74 with an underlying health conditions, the same group that can currently access the vaccine via their GP.

The graphic below shows how the incidence rate – the number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants – has dropped among over 80s since the end of January, a trend the prime minister said could be attributed to the vaccination of this age group. 

Graphic: French government

He has also asked vaccine centres to step up their weekend opening, in an attempt to stop the huge drop of vaccination numbers still seen at the weekend, where frequently just 10,000 injections are given in the whole country, against an average of 120,000 per day on week days.

Castex added: “The deliveries of doses to France will increase in the coming weeks. Between January and February, we received 7 million doses, of all vaccines combined.

“In March, we should receive 22 million – or three times as many.

“By mid-April, we should have already vaccinated at least 10 million people.”

On a national level, Covid case numbers in France have only risen slightly, from a daily average of 20,000 cases to 21,000 cases, but that figure hides big differences between regions.

While some areas like Brittany are seeing low numbers of cases, in the 20 risk départements numbers are very high, with the incidence rate in Dunkirk reaching 900 cases per 100,000 people, more than four times the national incidence rate of 221.

Member comments

  1. Why why why are vaccination centers closed on weekends? Talk about S T U P I D. Sure, we all want to enjoy and protect the French lunch hours, the French love of sun and pleasure, the French joie de vivre which usually doesn’t include 8-hour workdays, but really: 20K+ new cases on a daily basis, and the vaccination centers are closed? And the national government is suggesting it would be “nice” if they were open? How about ORDERING THEM TO BE OPEN?!!! On weekdays, people are juggling jobs, kids in school, the whole shebang. Open the centers on weekends and get the jab job done! I cannot believe that this hasn’t been mandatory from Weekend 1.

    As a word of caution to the Macron administration: Trump lost only because of mishandling the pandemic. What started out in France as a rigorous and appropriate response has dwindled to “asking” vaccination centers to stay open on weekends. Totally ridiculous. Totally ineffectual. Totally playing into the hands of Le Pen and the far right.

    1. Totally agree with you, on the whole the organisation of vaccinations and how they are implemented, has been terrible. As to weekend working, well this is France, you probably need volunteers for that, England runs on volunteers doesn’t it?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.