French festivals face another summer of cancellations

French festivals are feeling a terrible sense of deja vu as they are forced to cancel this year's events by spiking Covid-19 infections and a sluggish vaccine rollout.

French festivals face another summer of cancellations
Festivals such as this one from a concert at rock music festival in Belfort, eastern France, in 2019 are unlikely to happen this summer. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

The latest cancellation came on Friday from the organisers of Angouleme’s world-renowned comic books festival, due at the end of June.

It joins a raft of casualties that already includes some of Europe’s biggest summer music festivals: Solidays, Hellfest, Garorock, Eurocks, and Lollapalooza in Paris, among others – together accounting for more than one million ticket sales.

The French government has put a limit of 5,000 people on this summer’s events, and they must be seated and socially distanced – not exactly conducive to going wild in a moshpit. Solidays had 228,000 attendees in 2019.

And that was before President Emmanuel Macron announced a third lockdown starting this Saturday as hospitals are inundated with Covid-19 cases and the country struggles to procure and deliver vaccines.

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The organisers of Eurocks, which hosted 128,000 people in 2019, said the rules were a “straitjacket” and “completely incompatible with the spirit of a lively event”.

“We aren’t denying the pandemic, but what makes us sick to the stomach is that we are cancelling even earlier in 2021 than we did in 2020,” said director Jean-Paul Roland.

Festival organisers have also been unimpressed with the €30 million support package offered by the government, which must be shared between everything from rock and classical festivals to art and street theatre.

“We asked for a parachute to take the leap, and instead they gave us a mattress to land on, and we’re still arguing about how thick it should be,” said Roland, adding that even if the health situation improved rapidly, it would be impossible for big festivals to organise themselves in time.

A handful of events are still holding out in the hope of adapting to the situation.

France’s biggest music get-together, Les Vielles Charrues, which had a 270,000-strong crowd in 2019, and more easily adaptable events such as the Avignon theatre festival and Cannes Film Festival are still hoping to go ahead in July.

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French hospital cancels operations after cyberattack

A hospital complex in Versailles, near Paris, had to cancel operations and transfer some patients after being hit by a cyberattack over the weekend, France's health ministry said.

French hospital cancels operations after cyberattack

The Hospital Centre of Versailles – which consists of Andre-Mignot Hospital, Richaud Hospital and the Despagne Retirement Home – was affected by the hacking attempt, said the complex’s management.

The regional health agency (ARS) said the Andre-Mignot Hospital had cancelled operations, but was doing everything possible to keep walk-in services and consultations running.

Six patients had been transferred since Saturday evening – three from intensive care and three from the neonatal unit – said Health Minister Francois Braun, as he visited the hospital on Sunday evening. Others might follow, he added.

The cyberattack had led to a “total reorganisation of the hospital”, the minister added.

While the machines were still functioning in the intensive care unit, more people were needed to watch the screens as they were no longer working as part of a network, Braun said.

The Paris prosecutors’ office has opened a preliminary investigation into attempted extortion, as well as the access and maintenance of the state’s digital system. The hospital had also filed a formal complaint on Sunday.

For several months now, hospitals and health systems in France have been targeted with such cyberattacks.

According to Braun, “the health system suffers daily attacks” in France, but the “vast majority of these attempts are prevented”.

In August, the Corbeil-Essonnes hospital on the outskirts of Paris – which provides healthcare for nearly 700,000 residents – was targeted.

Its operations were severely disrupted for several weeks before returning to normal in mid-October.

On that occasion, the attack was followed by a demand for $10 million, subsequently lowered to one or two million.

The hackers had set a September 23rd deadline for the hospital to pay the ransom, after which they posted confidential data on patients and staff to the “dark web”.