‘Warning signs’ of virus resurgence in south west France, says government

Half the adult population in France will have had at least one dose of vaccine against Covid-19 by the end of Wednesday, but 'warning signs' in the south west of France mean it would be unwise to speed up the process of reopening, the government says.

'Warning signs' of virus resurgence in south west France, says government
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

“If the overall level of virus circulation is comparable to that of early last autumn, warning signs are emerging in some areas,” said government spokesman Gabriel Attal after the regular meeting of the Ministers’ Council on Wednesday morning.

ALSO READ: IN NUMBERS: Is the Covid situation in France really ‘under control’?

A week before the next phase of reopening is due, Attal said that it would not be sensible to increase the pace at which France eases its restrictions – noting an increase in cases in the south west regions of Nouvelle Aquitaine and Occitanie.

 “In Nouvelle Aquitaine, we are seeing sometimes significant increases in the circulation of the virus, with a reproduction rate that has risen above 1, which means that the epidemic is gaining ground again,” he said.

The incidence rate in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department has risen more than 80 percent in a week, according to Attal, while cases were up “to a lesser extent in Charente-Maritime, Lot-et-Garonne, Charente, Landes and Gironde”. 

He said that although the national circulation of the virus remained moderate, the figures in those two regions should not go unheeded, and called on the French people not to lower their guard. 

But, he said: “The indicators are green at the national level. This is good news which shows that the first step in lifting the restriction measures has been successful.”

Meanwhile in the département of Bouches-du-Rhône, which contains Marseille, wearing a mask on beaches, in parks gardens and natural spaces is no longer obligatory from June 2nd.

“Respect for social distancing”  remains necessary, added the préfecture in a statement.

Member comments

  1. Well they better get on with vaccinations than, France is slower than most eu countries. Are they busy testing instead of vaccinating?

    1. You see that’s the problem. It’s people like you that think the vaccination stops you getting it. It does not, you can still catch it but it is not as severe and still pass it on. It’s about time the Government changed tack and revealed all the facts instead of running the vaccination program as some sort of contest.

      1. You’re both right. The CDC has mentioned that the vaccine does seem to limit the rate of transmission, studied in mRNA doses (Pfizer and Moderna, which is roughly 90% of doses given). HOWEVER, they cannot conclude it eliminates the risk.

        “A growing body of evidence indicates that people fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. Studies are underway to learn more about the benefits of Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. However, the risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus.”

        Get vaccinated ASAP and still follow the guidelines for distancing and masks. Best strategy.

        1. The problem is that people have become to believe that having the vaccination is the end of it. They have come to think that they are immune from it because of the way the media have been pitching being vaccinated.

  2. Regarding the article about the fading French culture of women going topless on the beach…
    Isn’t the reason most women don’t do it anymore because they’ve realised that rather than making a statement of sexual freedom, they were just playing straight into the hands of men (‘scuse the pun) by showing them their boobs!

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Macron vs the unions: What happens next in France?

French President Emmanuel Macron is facing his biggest standoff with France's trade unions since coming to power in 2017, with the outcome of a series of strikes and protests seen as decisive for both sides.

Macron vs the unions: What happens next in France?

The 45-year-old leader has made raising the retirement age a signature domestic policy of his second term in office — something the unions and millions of protesters are determined to block.

After two days of nationwide strikes and demonstrations, AFP looks at what is likely to happen next on the streets, in parliament, inside the government, and in wider French public opinion.

On the streets

Labour leaders were delighted with their second day of protests on Tuesday, which they claimed had seen around 2.5 million people hit the streets, including in many small and medium-sized towns.

Official estimates put the figure at 1.27 million, compared to 1.1 million people during round one on January 19th, according to the interior ministry.

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember

Momentum is clearly with the unions who announced two further days of protests and strikes next week, on Tuesday and Saturday.

“The movement is growing and spread across the whole country,” the head of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, unions no longer have the ability to paralyse the country and working-from-home practices mean most white-collar workers can easily adjust to transport stoppages.

The biggest fear of authorities is a repeat of the 2018 so-called “Yellow Vest” protests — a spontaneous movement drawn mostly from the countryside and small-town France that led to shockingly violent clashes with police. 

“The trauma was so big and the violence so great, I don’t see it happening again for the moment,” Bruno Cautres from Sciences Po university in Paris told AFP earlier this month. 

In government 

The government was expecting a rough ride — few major policy changes happen in France without protests, and former president Nicolas Sarkozy faced similar resistance with his pension reform in 2010.

Macron has faced numerous challenges from the unions in the past and has always succeeded in pushing through his pro business agenda and social security reforms.

The only exception was his first attempt at pension reform — also highly contested — which he withdrew in 2020 during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has been the public face of the latest proposals, while Macron has kept his statements and appearances to a minimum, as is his habit.

But with the battle lines hardening and protests growing, the president might be forced to enter the fray. 

“I think the president will speak, but not right now,” a minister told AFP on condition of anonymity. “If he did it now, it would look like we’re panicking.”

In parliament

The draft legislation will be debated for the first time in the 577-seat National Assembly from Monday.

Macron’s allies are the largest group with 170 seats, but they do not hold a majority after a weaker-than-expected showing in June elections.

Support from the 62 rightwing Republicans (LR) party MPs will be essential.

LR has long supported raising the retirement age, but there are doubts over how many of their MPs will give the government their backing.

“I’m not asking the government to give in to the protests. This reform needs to be done,” LR parliamentary party chief Olivier Marleix said on Wednesday.

The lower house debate will finish on February 17th at the latest when a vote can be called — or the government could transfer it to the Senate or ram it through with controversial executive powers that dispense with the need for a ballot.

The bill is expected to pass the conservative-dominated Senate, where a vote is to take place by mid-March.

Public opinion

The latest polling figures show a growing majority opposes the reform and supports the protests, with roughly two in three people against the proposals.

Ministers have struggled to find winning arguments, at times arguing the changes are needed to reduce government spending, at others insisting they will make the pension system fairer.

“The government has not won with the argument that it is necessary,” Bernard Sananes, the head of the Elabe polling group, told AFP. “And it is fighting on another, more intense front which is that the reform is seen as unfair.”

In private, Macron’s allies insist their best hope is for parliament to quickly approve the legislation that will never be popular but might grudgingly be accepted as necessary.

“The question is how big the protest movement will be and how long it will last,” the minister told AFP.