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MAP: Where in France are Covid rates falling most rapidly?

As Covid-19 case numbers continue to fall in France, by Wednesday no départements were over the threshold set by the government for reopening café terraces and cultural establishments later in May.

MAP: Where in France are Covid rates falling most rapidly?
The reopening of café terraces could be delayed in areas with high case numbers. Photo: AFP / DataWrapper

When the President Emmanuel Macon laid out the timetable to ease Covid restrictions and reclaim, in his words, “our French-style way of life” of enjoying cafés, restaurants, cinemas and museums, he set a few conditions.

“The measures will be national, but we will be able to activate ’emergency brakes’ in areas where the virus is circulating at too high a rate,” Macron said, adding:

“I am confident that the whole of France will be able to move to the May 19th stage”.

But authorities could delay the second phase of reopening in any town or département that recorded 7-day incidence rate of more than 400 new cases per 100,000 people, combined with a sudden jump in rates and intense pressure on local health services.

All of mainland France’s départements had on Wednesday dropped below that threshold, although the numbers included a holiday – Saturday, May 1st – when many test centres were closed.

Just two weeks ago, eight départments – the city of Paris, six of its surrounding départements and the Bouches-du-Rhone département in the south east – had incidence rates over the 400-mark.

The national incidence rate was 224 on Tuesday, down from 289.5 last week.

France is now recording on average 23,500 new Covid cases per day, taken as a seven-day average, down from over 30,000 mid-April and nearly 40,000 in late March.

Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Monday that declining Covid-19 case numbers raised hopes that the country could reopen café terraces and cultural establishments as planned later in May.

“The epidemic (spread) decreases by between 20 and 25 percent per week,” the health minister said during an interview with students at Sciences Po University.

“In 15 days, we should therefore be somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 cases per day,” Véran said, pointing forward to May 19th, the date when the government plans to begin the second phase of reopening closed sectors – if the health situation permits.

IN DETAIL: France’s new calendar for reopening after Covid restrictions

Despite the drop in case numbers, hospitals in many areas remained strained, especially in the greater Paris region Île-de-France, which had an intensive care unit occupancy rate of over 140 percent.

Bouches-du-Rhône, home to France’s second largest town, Marseille, also reported an intensive care unit occupancy level over 100 percent.

National intensive care unit patient numbers – which had been stable at nearly 6,000 since mid-April, more than at the peak of nearly 5,000 patients during the second wave in autumn – began declining slightly before rising again on Monday, reaching a total of 5,630 patients. On Tuesday it dropped to 5,504.

Hospitals chiefs have repeatedly warned that sustaining such a high pressure on hospitals will have severe consequences for the patients in the need of non-Covid medical care.

“There are still too many patients in intensive care to resume a normal rhythm of care,” the health minister told Europe 1 on Tuesday morning, “but in the coming weeks, the number will drop and we will be able to do so.”

In some areas, hospitals have begun to see an improvement, such as in Alpes-Maritimes, the southeastern département of Nice and the French Riviera. Alpes-Maritimes, where the incidence rate had plunged down from 460 to 126 in one month, registered a drop in the pressure on hospital intensive care units down to 83 percent.

In the rest of the country, case levels remained higher in the north and east of the country than in the west, as they had done throughout the pandemic. Sparsely populated central areas and Brittany were less badly affected than other regions.

To Europe 1, Véran also said that he hoped that the face mask – currently compulsory both in all indoor public places and outside in most of French towns and cities – would soon be unnecessary outside.

“I sincerely hope that it will be this summer,” he said, referring to when the government would scrap rules on masks and other health rules such as social distancing.

Five mainland départments reported an incidence rate below 100: Landes in the south west on the coast; Gers, also in the south west, near the city of Toulouse; Finistère in Brittany; Pyrénées-Atlantiques on the Spanish border; and the southern half of Corsica.

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French PM announces €100 fuel aid for motorists

French prime minister Elisabeth Borne has announced a €100 grant for motorists on low incomes, to help with the cost of filling up the car when the government's fuel rebate ends in January.

French PM announces €100 fuel aid for motorists

Since the spring, the French government has been funding a fuel rebate for all drivers of between 30 cents and 10 cents per litre on petrol and diesel, which is applied automatically when people fill up.

However the rebate has been gradually decreasing – it currently stands at 10 cents per litre – and will end entirely at the end of December.

It will then be replaced by financial aid targeted only at people on low incomes who need to use their car for work – an estimated 10 million people.

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Announcing the full details of this new aid on Tuesday, Borne announced that the government had reserved €1billion to fund the package.

She said: “If you drive an average of 12,000 km per year, which is the average of the French” it represents aid of 10 cents per litre, the same rate as the current rebate.

She told RTL: “It will be necessary to go to the tax office website, indicate your numéro fiscal (tax number), register the license plate of the car and fill in a déclaration sur l’honneur in order to benefit from it.”

Full details of the exact process and the opening date of the grants are yet to be revealed, although Borne said it would be available “from January”. 

The fuel aid scheme joins several other one-off payments of €100 or €200 targeted at low-income households, such as the chèque energie, designed to help the most vulnerable cope with the rising cost of living.

In most cases, these are calculated based on the previous year’s tax declaration, but people whose circumstances have changed or are new arrivals in France can visit their local CAF offices to enquire about financial assistance.