On Saturday, almost a third of France’s population went into what Prime Minister Jean Castex described as a “lockdown”, the country’s third since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, amid a sharp, variant-inflicted rise in new infections. But confusion prevailed over the weekend, even if the term “lockdown” is appropriate for the limited measures introduced.
After all, is it a lock?
During Thursday’s press conference announcing the new restrictions, Castex used the term “containment” or locking once, which led to the French media repeating the term. But other ministers were quick to suggest that the new measures were simply a tightening of restrictions.
“Can we call this a third lock?” Health Minister Olivier Véran, stepping away from Castex on Thursday, asked loudly. “I do not know what to call the measures that are being taken. But there is an important difference, namely that we turn more to the outdoors.”
“What we want is to put the brakes on the virus without locking us in, without being restricted,” President Emmanuel Macron said Friday, rejecting the term “lockdown” a day after his prime minister used it. “We have to learn to live with (the virus), I’ve been saying this for a year.”
# COVID19 | The släktingar rules on diocesan travel clearance certificates applicable to this day are simplified and allotted.
Find all the information about the sanitary situation and the restrictions that are in place in France at: https://t.co/9x5uLdexF1. pic.twitter.com/hOW6KQK6Cr
– Government (@gouvernementFR) March 20, 2021
During the weekend, Véran continued to downplay the moniker. “We do not prevent people from going out, we restrict gatherings indoors. Walking in a park, cycling … We need them [activities] so that we do not burst. The new measures will bridge the gap between physical and mental health when the pandemic persists, says the Minister of Health to the French daily Le Parisien.
Saturday’s new measures, which affect 21 million people or a third of France’s population, contrast with the first French locks – when schools, parks and all-in-one shops were closed across the country from March to May 2020. The new rules are also less restrictive than the other “light” shutdowns in November and December, which never met Macron’s goal of having daily infections recorded below 5,000 per day.
The primary new restrictions, which were introduced as of Saturday for four weeks in 16 administrative departments, include restricting travel outside one’s home department without a “pressing” or professional reason.
The measures cover 15 adjoining divisions stretching from eastern Normandy and the greater Paris area northwest to the Belgian border and a single southeastern division, the Alpes-Maritimes, which includes the city of Nice. The Saturday break for travel outside the locked departments saw a 20 percent increase in the expected train reservations on Friday as some tried to escape while they could.
The new measures also limit the freedom to take a walk or exercise to a radius of 10 km from their home and without a time limit between 06:00 and 19:00, up from an hour / one kilometer limit that largely characterized previous locking. For a sense of baldness, it notes that from the center of Paris extends a radius of 10 km far beyond the city limits in all directions.
A sense of scale. A radius of 10 kilometers, the allowable distance for excursions for sports or fresh air among new French Covid-19 restrictions, starting from central Paris. © Screengrab, Geoportail.gouv.fr/ National Institute for Geographic and Forest Information (IGN)
Castex originally announced that the same permit regulations would apply to these excursions as during previous locks – requiring joggers, dog walkers and others to complete and sign a document confirming the time and reason for leaving their homes before each excursion.
But the demand was quickly scrapped on Saturday after the Interior Ministry managed to ridicule the confusing complexity of the two-sided printable permit document, which contained check boxes along with no less than 15 approved reasons for excursions, each described in technical language. Permit cards are still required for other excursions, but a 10 km walk now only requires identification with proof of address.
The new rules also interrupt personal browsing in some non-essential stores, although the exceptions are more productive this time around. They include bookstores, music stores, car dealers, hairdressers, florists and, as the Easter weekend approaches, chocolate shops.
Click and download is allowed for companies that are forced to clear their aisles as clothing stores, in addition to those located in malls. The measure will affect about 90,000 companies, although the government said stores would be looked at on a case-by-case basis if any “deviations” were to emerge.
“We made some exceptions, such as hairdressers, to the morale of the French. We did it because there are professions like florists who make half of their turnover in the spring. We did it for the chocolate cakes because it is Easter,” Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told RTL. radio on Sunday.
The store closures, perhaps the most visible of the new measures, predictably raised the barriers of business leaders. “The principle of partially locking down stores does not work,” Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, head of Medef’s business association, told Europe 1 radio, adding “we know that people are not primarily infected in stores.”
Some restrictions slackened
The Parisians said the new restrictions, which took effect on Saturday, made no major difference to their lives. “As you can see, everyone eats and takes off the mask,” student Rachel Chea, 20, told Reuters on Saturday along the Seine. “It does not change anything for me.”
Some existing restrictions were released, which increased the feeling of confusion over the new regime. The nationwide curfew was pushed back from 18:00 to 19:00 to account for the clocks changing to summer time next Sunday.
“In the end, it will be better than before because we will win an hour in the evening with the curfew at 7 pm,” Louise, a yoga teacher, told Agence France-Presse.
In addition, the Prime Minister announced that physical education courses could be resumed indoors, despite growing concerns expressed by Covid-19 transmission in schools, and repealed a repeal of a method aimed at reducing the risk of transmission. No regulations were announced to close the school cafeterias, despite Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s latest and rare admission that maskless lunches at the school are the “weak link in a student day”.
The limited measures give the impression of the impression that the French government expects with its vaccination program, where 6.1 million were vaccinated, including 2.4 million were completely inoculated with other doses and improved weather conditions to alleviate the crisis.
“With the arrival of spring, we are moving towards a period with temperatures that are less favorable for the virus’ circulation,” Véran told Le Parisien over the weekend. “Vaccinations are a game changer,” he told the newspaper, promising to give 100,000 extra doses over the next 15 days to the regions hardest hit by the current rise in Covid-19 infections.
Too little too late?
A majority of the French respondents say that the new measures announced on Thursday should have been decided earlier and that at this time it will probably not be enough. A survey by the Odoxa company, released on Friday, showed that 78 percent of French respondents thought the new restrictions should have been introduced earlier and 52 percent thought they would be “inadequate given the current state of health” in the midst of the delay. Among those surveyed in the areas affected by the lock, 52 percent consider the measures to be “too restrictive” and 53 percent consider them “ineffective” in suing Covid-19.
As many as 47 percent of those surveyed by Odoxa, including two-thirds of young people surveyed, said they would defy the rules for this shutdown, compared with only five percent who said the same thing about the lock a year ago, and 12 percent my subsequent fall shutdown.
Marseille saw a mass uprising against the Covid-19 restrictions at the site on Sunday when more than 6,000 people gathered, mostly dewormed at an illegal carnival-style street party in the city. The Mediterranean port city, 200 km west of Nice, is not subject to the new restrictions, but the nationwide curfew, bar and restaurant closure and existing rules for mass gatherings and face masks apply.
>> In pictures: A look back, a year after France went into lockdown
Healthcare professionals are also skeptical that the extra restrictions will work as Covid-19 numbers continue to increase. “We may be able to slow down a bit, but the epidemiological situation will not be resolved quickly with the measures taken,” former top ministry official William Dab told BFMTV.
“The fact that people are out does not worry me,” epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux, head of the parasitology unit at Paris Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, told LCI’s new channel on Monday. “The problem is that restrictions have not been put in place where they need to be,” Piarroux said, referring to workplaces and schools.
“We should not kidnap ourselves. We will not see a rapid decline in cases of these measures,” he added.
As of Sunday, 4,406 Covid-19 patients were treated in intensive care units in France, the highest number since November 23, during the country’s second lock-in. ICU numbers are worse in the Ile-de-France region, the greater Paris area, where ICUs are saturated with Covid-19 patients. More than 30,000 new daily infections were recorded during the previous day on every Friday and Saturday in France, where the more contagious and more deadly British variant represents the majority of new infections. More than 92,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the country since the pandemic began.
“When you look at the numbers, they are unsustainable, and it will be even more difficult as the virus continues to circulate,” Anaelle Aeschliman, a nurse at the Ambroise Paré clinic in Neuilly-sur-Seine, west of Paris, told the Associated Press. “I admit that I was a little disappointed that we are not locked in nationwide,” she added.
“The government should never have allowed the situation to deteriorate to this point,” epidemiologist Catherine Hill told Libération. “They do not understand this epidemic, they have never had a strategy. They fumble in the dark and look for the light switch. It’s scary.”
Confusion over France’s latest restrictions followed confusion last week over the AstraZeneca vaccine. Four days after France suspended its use among blood clots throughout Europe, the country’s health authority (HAS) approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, but recommended that it should only be used for those aged 55 and over. The first AstraZeneca Council in France had allowed it to be used only for people under 65, before that restriction was eased on 1 March for those under 75.