French city-dwellers fleeing lockdown ‘spread virus’

Urban residents who fled to the countryside as the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in France helped to “spread the infection”, a senior doctor has said, as authorities ban non-locals from certain areas.

23 March 2020
The Île de Ré is now also only allowing access to residents
By Connexion journalist

Dr Philippe Feigel, president of Vendée departmental hospital commission la Commission Médicale du Centre Hospitalier Départemental de Vendée (Pays de la Loire) told national news service FranceInfo that the exodus - mainly from Paris - would cause “a guaranteed health catastrophe”.

Dr Feigel said that the “catastrophe” had already started.

He said: “[Many holidaymakers] arrived with symptoms. Several colleagues have told me that they have seen patients with a slight viral complaint. Right now, until we have evidence to the contrary, that is being considered as coronavirus.”

Dr Feigel blamed the many city-dwellers who left their usual homes to escape to the countryside as lockdown was imposed.

He said: “They arrived last weekend. And, from Monday morning, our town GP surgeries were overwhelmed with patients with headaches, and who had infection symptoms. 

“They arrived in an area that they know has a relatively-weak healthcare capacity - a lot weaker than that in Ile-de-France - with a very small intensive care unit. They have spread the infection more quickly.”

Dr Feigel added that confinement was even more necessary in such cases, “so we do not find ourselves in the same situation as Alsace or the north of Italy”.

The number of cases has increased rapidly in the Vendée in recent days. The department had seen relatively few cases previously, but now has 30 people in hospital in La Roche-sur-Yon, Dr Feigel said.

  

Beaches, hospitals and supermarkets overwhelmed

The comments come just days after the prefecture of the Vendée banned access to the Île d'Yeu - which only has seven doctors for 5,000 residents - and local beaches, after an influx of tourists caused locals to demand action from their mayors.

The first decree said: “Access to the Île d'Yeu is now limited to locals with a carte de passage (permanent residents), and to people carrying out essential healthcare or work for the continuation of life and activities on the île.”

A second decree banned actions to all Vendée beaches. Authorities in Mediterranean areas and in the Charente-Maritime followed suit. 

Read more: Beaches closed due to confinement rule breaches

The Île de Ré is now also only allowing access to residents, and has been forced to re-open the previously-closed intensive care unit at the Saint-Martin hospital.

One resident told FranceInfo: “It’s a mess. They would have been better cared for if they had stayed in Paris.”

Supermarkets have reportedly also been overrun.

One resident of the Île d'Oléron said: “There were two hour queues in the supermarket, with animal-like behaviour. People who were rude, people who wanted 10 boxes of paracetamol.”

One supermarket employee in the Île d’Yeu said: “Monday morning, my first customer arrived at the checkout with two huge shopping trolleys. They were worth €600. She robbed the place.”

Thibault Grollemund, mayor of the commune of Palais, in Belle-île-en-Mer (Morbihan, Brittany), said: “I do not want to judge anyone, but I saw one couple [not from here] who had a supermarket trolley with €850 worth of shopping....The atmosphere is a little tense.”

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