LATEST: 16 areas of France placed back under full lockdown

Some 21 million people living in 16 French départements will be placed under a four-week lockdown from midnight on Friday because of the rapidly increasing Covid-19 infections in the country.

LATEST: 16 areas of France placed back under full lockdown
French health minister Olivier Véran, left, and Prime Minister Jean Castex will make the announcement on Thursday evening. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

“The situation is deteriorating,” French PM Jean Castex said on Thursday as he announced the new lockdown for the worst hit parts of the country.

The PM said the regional disparities meant that the government’s strategy of imposing localised restrictions rather than nationwide measures “remains relevant”.

President Emmanuel Macron had so far resisted imposing a nationwide lockdown this year but his premier said the situation in Paris and elsewhere made the regionally-targeted measures affecting around a third of the country’s population unavoidable.

Castex said, however, that the lockdown would be less strict than the one seen in the spring, and that schools will remain open.

“These confinement measures will not be a repeat of those we imposed in March and last November,” he said.

‘Third wave’

“We are adopting a third way, a way that should allow braking (of the epidemic) without locking (people) up,”

He said the measures were due to an increased number of Covid-19 cases due to a “third wave” of the virus, with around 1,200 people in intensive care in the Paris region alone.

The 16 départements are; the eight départements of the greater Paris Île-de-France region, the five départements of the northern French Hauts-de-France region and the départements of Alpes-Maritimes, Seine-Maritime and Eure.

READ MORE: What are the 16 French départements under full lockdown

The measure comes into force at midnight on Friday night and will be in place for an initial four weeks – until Sunday, April 18th – although this will be reviewed in the context of the health situation.

Castex warned that they could be extended to other parts of the country if the epidemic deteriorates.

The rules will be broadly similar to the lockdown in November, with all non-essential trips out of the home banned and an exemption certificate (attestation) required for all trips out.

However, some aspects have been relaxed or altered:

  • There will be no time limit on trips outside for exercise, as long as you are within 10km of your home
  • Schools will remain open but high schools (lycées) will move to 50 percent distance learning
  • Non-essential shops will close, but the definition of essential has been expanded to include bookshops and music shops, in addition to the businesses which remained open during the November lockdown 
  • For people living in the locked-down départements, travel to a different region is not allowed, except for essential or work-related trips.
  • From Saturday the nationwide curfew will be pushed back from 6pm to 7pm across the whole country so that people can, for example, got out for exercise before 7pm. This is to take account of the start of “summer time” and the changing of the clocks on March 28th
  • Remote-working should be used for everyone who is able to

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED- These are the lockdown rules for the 16 French départements

Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran were holding the press conference after a sharp rise in cases – 34,998 new cases were recorded on Thursday.

The average number of daily infections in France stood at 25,453, which reflected a rise of 18.8 percent in one week. The Paris region has seen a 23 percent rise.

Photo: French government

“The peak of the second wave has been exceeded,” in Île-de-France and Hauts-de-France, Castex said.

The prime minister explained the rapid rise in cases is largely due to the new variants of the virus, notably the one first discovered in the UK.

“The variant known as the “UK variant” now represents three quarters of all cases,” Castex said. “It is more contagious and potentially more dangerous.”

Photo: French government

AstraZeneca vaccinations to start again

Castex added that use of the AstraZeneca vaccine would restart on Friday, after the European Medicines Agency declared is “very effective against the most severe forms of Covid and very safe”.

He added that he would be vaccinated on Friday afternoon to demonstrate his confidence in the vaccine – as he is 55 with no underlying health conditions he has not previously qualified for vaccination under France’s priority system.

The prime minister reiterated the government’s goal of vaccinating 10 million people by mid April, 20 million by mid May and 30 million by mid June, “or two thirds of the population aged over 18,” he said. 

“We are doing everything we can to win this race against time, and we will get there,” Castex said.

Health Minister Oliver Véran added: “We really hope that with these braking measures we will pass the peak of this wave and on the other side of this wave we will find spring and unlike last year the protection of the population through vaccination.”

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Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

An investigation has revealed that tap water supplied to some 12 million people in France was sometimes contaminated with high levels of pesticides last year.

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

Data from regional health agencies, and collated by Le Monde, found that supplies to about 20 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent the year previously, failed to consistently meet regional quality standards. 

The study highlighted regional differences in tap water quality. Hauts-de-France water was the most likely to be affected, with 65 percent of the population there drinking water contaminated by unacceptable pesticide levels. In Brittany, that level fell to 43 percent; 25.5 percent in the Grand-Est, and 25 percent in the Pays de la Loire.

Occitanie, in southwest France, meanwhile, showed the lowest level of non-compliance with standards, with just 5.1 percent of the region’s population affected by high pesticide levels in their tap water. However, figures show that 71 percent of people in one département in the region, Gers, were supplied with water containing high levels of pesticides.

Regional discrepancies in testing, including what chemicals are tested for, mean that results and standards are not uniform across France. Tap water in Haute-Corse is tested for 24 pesticide molecules; in Hauts-de-Seine, that figure rises to 477. 

One reason for regional testing standards are differences in local agricultural requirements.

Part of the increase in the year-on-year number of households supplied with affected water may also be explained by the fact that tests in many regions now seek to trace more molecules, Le Monde noted.

Water quality standards in France are strict – with a limit for pesticide residues set at 0.1 microgramme per litre, so the “high” levels found in tap water supplies may not represent a danger to health.

The question of the level of health risk to humans, therefore, remains unclear. The Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) has not defined a maximum safety level for 23 pesticides or their metabolites. Le Monde cites two metabolites of chloridazone, a herbicide used until 2020 on beet fields, for which only provisional safety levels in tap water have been set. 

Many of these molecules and their long-term effects remain unknown – and “the long-term health effects of exposure to low doses of pesticides are difficult to assess,” admits the Ministry of Health.

Michel Laforcade, former director general of the ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine told Le Monde that health authorities have “failed” on this subject. 

“One day, we will have to give an account,” he said. “It may not be on the same scale as the contaminated blood affair, but it could become the next public health scandal.”

In December 2020, the Direction générale de la santé (DGS) recommended “restricting uses of water” as soon as the 0.1 micrograms per litre quality threshold is exceeded, in cases of residues for which there is no formal maximum health value.

But this principle is not always applied, according to France 2’s Complètement d’enquête programme.

In December 2021, the DGS asked the Haut conseil de la santé publique (HCSP) “for support on the management of health risks associated with the presence of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in water intended for human consumption.”

The HCSP, in response, said that “an active and urgent policy must be implemented to reduce the contamination of resources by pesticides”.