IN NUMBERS: Are France’s ‘partial lockdown’ measures working?

IN NUMBERS: Are France's 'partial lockdown' measures working?
Photo: Valery Hache/AFP
The extra restrictions imposed across the whole of France since the weekend were an extension of measures that had already been in place in some areas - including the Paris region - for almost three weeks. So is there any evidence that the more relaxed measures are working in those areas?

On March 20th, 16 départements of France – including the whole of the northern Hauts-de-France region and the greater Paris Île-de-France region – were placed on ‘lockdown light’. A week later they were joined by the départements of Rhône, Nievre and Aube and the week after that the measures were extended to the whole of mainland France.

But the extra restrictions are significantly lighter than the full, nationwide lockdowns that France experienced in the spring and autumn of 2020, leading many to worry that they will not be enough to slow the rapid spread of the ‘UK variant’ of Covid throughout France.

Under the confinement partiel, as the government terms it, or partial lockdown, non-essential shops are closed (although hairdressers, book shops and music shops are now classed as essential), travel between regions is banned and attestation permission forms are needed for any trip of more than 10km from home.

READ ALSO: These are the rules for France’s ‘partial lockdown’

But in sharp contrast to earlier lockdowns, leaving the home for any length of time is allowed without an attestation, provided you stay within 10km, parks and gardens remain open (although drinking in public spaces is banned) and meeting people is allowed.

April 6th marked the first day of a three-week closure of all the nation’s schools – of which two weeks are the rescheduled Easter holidays.

So are the areas approaching the three-week mark for ‘lockdown light’ seeing any reduction in case numbers or pressure on hospitals?

It’s early days but there does seem to be some positive news.

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Looking at overall case numbers across the country, we can see a slight fall.

The below graph from French data scientist Guillaume Rozier, founder of the CovidTracker website, shows the beginning of a drop, with recorded cases on Saturday at 25,715 – a 7.6 percent fall on the previous Saturday. However this comes with the caveat that Saturday was the beginning of the Easter holiday weekend.

When discounting data from the holiday weekend, which often causes delays in reporting latest numbers, the number of Covid patients in hospital and in intensive care continues to rise, with the effects of any fall in case numbers generally felt 2-3 weeks later in hospitals.

Rozier’s graphs of the case numbers in the départements where measures were introduced earlier also shows a steeper drop compared to the French average.

In these areas, testing has remained high, so the fall cannot be explained by fewer tests, although numbers in the Paris area may be at least partially explained by the number of people who left the city at the start of the confinement period to stay in more spacious second homes in the countryside.

So what do the experts say?

Health Minister Olivier Véran says he expects case numbers to reach their peak between April 7th and 11th, with patient numbers peaking in intensive care roughly two weeks later – around the end of April.

He said the extension of lockdown light to the whole country “will have a strong impact on the dynamics of the epidemic, there is no reason to think otherwise”.

The government also hopes that the total three-week closure of all schools, followed by another week of distance learning for pupils in secondary school and high schools, will be enough to cut transmission in schools and halt outbreaks. President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday confirmed the reopening of primary and infant schools on April 26th.

Several doctors and hospital organisations had called for a full, strict lockdown as seen in the spring of 2020, saying this was the only way to prevent “a disaster” in over-stretched hospitals, particularly in the Paris region.

However Antoine Flahault, an epidemiologist and Director of the Geneva Institute for Global Health, told The Local that the new measures “should make it possible to regain control over the epidemic,” because they are nationwide and include school closures.

And what next?

The partial lockdown measures are in place for four weeks initially, taking us to May 1st, however many of France’s restrictive measures have been extended beyond the periods initially envisaged.

Unlike the lockdown in autumn, the government has not set a target of achieving a certain number of daily cases before lockdown can be relaxed. This time it’s a joint strategy of lowering case numbers through extra restrictions while ramping up vaccination rates.

After a very slow start, the French vaccine programme is now a lot more efficient, with more than 300,000 injections on most days while the government is comfortably on track to exceed its target of 10 million first doses by the middle of April.

The opening of the Stade de France as a giant vaccine centre on April 6th gives capacity for an extra 10,000 doses per week in the Paris region, while two new websites have been set up to allow people to register for alerts on ‘spare’ doses in their area and avoid wasted doses and missed appointments.

READ ALSO How to sign up for ‘spare’ vaccine doses in France

However, the slow start to the vaccine programme means there is still a long way to go and the pace will need to kick on again if the government is to fulfil its pledge of offering every adult who wants one a vaccine by ‘the end of the summer’ – or even fulfil the more immediate hope of beginning to reopen bars and cafés by mid May.


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