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PANDEMIC

Pandemic leaves French hospital interns at breaking point

After a year working brutally long hours on the "Covid front-line", hospital interns in France are at breaking point, to the extent that some of them have even committed suicide, according to a national union.

Hospital interns in France are breaking under pressure
Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

“These interns are invisible, but they are front-line soldiers,” hospital clinical psychologist Anne Rocher told AFP.

France has over 300,000 medical student interns, whose average age is 25. In theory, they work 48-hour weeks, “but nobody cares” about that, said Marie Saleten, one of the interns and vice-president of the union for Paris hospitals interns.

According to a study carried out over a three-month period in 2019 by the national interns’ union ISNI, 58-hour weeks were actually the norm.

But with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, that figure has risen to around 80 hours per week, according to Saleten.

“They are on call 24 hours a day, and during the pandemic, you don’t get to shut your eyes, not even for a micro-nap,” said ISNI chief Gaetan Casanova. “It’s too much and everyone is paying the price, caregivers and patients. Everyone is in danger,” Casanova warned.

Health Minister Olivier Véran met with representatives of ISNI and other intern groups on Thursday. “Together, we are committed to improving their working conditions, starting with their working hours,” the minister tweeted following the meeting, but ISNI said the responses it had received were too vague.

‘Silent tribute’

Since the start of 2021, five hospital interns have committed suicide. That was equivalent to “a suicide every 18 days,” said Casanova.

ISNI organised a “silent tribute” to the dead outside the health ministry, attended by around 40 people, including interns and relatives of the deceased.

The names of the interns who had taken their own lives – Valentin, Tristan, Quentin, Elise, Florian – were displayed on blackboards while a banner reading “Hospitals are killing interns. Help us to live” was displayed at the entrance to the ministry.

“It’s been a year since the first signs of Covid and nothing has changed,” said Saleten.

Psychologist Rocher pointed out that the medics were still relatively young, but were expected to take care of the tens of thousands who have died of coronavirus and the many more who have recovered.

She voiced admiration for the young medics who work “non-stop in the ward with patients and families”.

This is more true than ever during the pandemic when the care required in intensive care units “is very hard, both physically and mentally. And it’s also repetitive”.

“It wears you down slowly,” especially over a year and more, she added. “Sometimes someone will crack, but they quickly return to treating patients because they don’t want to increase the burden on their co-interns,” said the psychologist.

The pandemic had strengthened “the sense of the group and the importance of relations with colleagues,” she said.

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COVID-19

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).

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