France has not ruled out another full confinement of the country, even as the UK announces a total lockdown and Germany imposes partial measures.
Health Minister Olivier Véran this week told radio network RTL: “We want to avoid total confinement and the closure of businesses. We no longer want this and we are aiming to avoid it.
“But if I told you ‘we will not impose lockdown’, I would be saying I am someone who can predict the future, and I am not.”
He added that it was a good thing that France is “at this stage, one of the only countries in Western Europe to not be locked down again”, and that “this means we did well by locking down earlier and more strongly than our neighbours, and that the protection measures we have in place are effective”.
Yet, he said: “Harsh and strict measures are already in place across the country. I am thinking of the sports sector, the cultural sector, restaurateurs. I am also thinking of the curfew, and of the public who cannot leave their homes after 20:00, or 18:00 in some areas.
“We cannot say that nothing is happening [to fight the virus] in our country.”
France is currently under curfew, with some departments from 20:00 to 06:00, and 15 in the east of the country under a stricter time limit of 18:00 to 06:00. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and public places such as cinemas and theatres also remain closed.
Festive and school effect?
Yet, some medical experts are saying that France must wait and see the effects of people gathering over Christmas and New Year, and schools going back after the break, before deciding whether to lock down again.
Professor Gilbert Deray, kidney specialist at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, told news service LCI: “We are in a very fragile transitional situation...Following a change over the next few days, we will be forced to either tighten or loosen the confinement rules. Several factors [such as schools going back and the impact of end-of-year gatherings] will cause us to act, or not.”
Professor Gilles Pialoux, head of infectious diseases at the Tenon hospital in Paris, told news channel BFMTV: “We will know what is happening with this ‘lockdown light’ by mid-January. We are not immune from having an identical situation [to that of the UK]. We are obviously very worried by the arrival of a third wave.”
The French government defence council is set to meet today to discuss plans to continue to fight Covid-19 in the country, with a press conference to announce any new rules set for tomorrow (Thursday January 7).
Topics discussed are expected to include whether to keep the scheduled reopening of bars, restaurants and cultural sites for January 20, or whether to extend their closure; and the speed of the country’s vaccine roll-out, which critics have said is too slow.
All of the UK is now under lockdown for the third time, after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced England would join Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a full confinement.
The lockdown includes the closure of all non-essential shops; public spaces such as restaurants, bars, and cinemas; a stay-at-home order; and the closure of schools.
The UK yesterday passed a record for the number of daily confirmed new cases of the virus, crossing the 60,000 threshold for the first time ever. This has partially been blamed on the new variant, which was first identified in the UK and is said to be between 50-70% more contagious than the previous variant.
The country is also set to require a negative PCR test from within the previous 72 hours for all passengers arriving into the UK, including from France.
UK newspaper The Telegraph reported that if the rules come into force - as expected within the next 48 hours - anyone entering the UK from France (and elsewhere) will have to provide a negative Covid-19 test, a passenger locator form and self-isolate for 10 days on arrival.
It is thought that under the new requirement, people will be able to leave quarantine if they get a second test, taken from the fifth day, that shows they are negative for Covid-19.