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Covid-19 France: What are the options for a third lockdown?

As Covid cases in France rise again, the government is discussing new confinement measures. We look at the options being considered

As Covid cases continue to rise in France, speculation that a new lockdown is imminent is also increasing.

The French defence council held a meeting about Covid yesterday, after which no new measures were announced, and President Macron is – so far – not scheduled to make a public address this week as he has done before previous confinements.

However, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said yesterday that current curfew measures are not thought to be slowing the spread of the virus quickly enough. 

As such, the President and senior ministers are considering different confinement scenarios that will “be the object of consultations with parliament and unions” in coming days, he said. 

We explain what these different scenarios might be.

Continuing curfew

This scenario is unlikely. Mr Attal said yesterday that the current national 18:00 lockdown, which has been in place for two weeks, has been “relatively effective” but “is not sufficiently slowing the spread of the virus”.

Despite the curfew, Covid variants are still “developing at a significant pace” he said. 

The UK variant now represents 9.4% of all positive tests in France taken between 11-21 January. Doctors from major Paris hospital trust l’Assistance publique-Hôpitaux de Paris have said they anticipate a “very significant” rise in Covid hospitalisations as a result.

Curfew and lockdown

Another possible option is a combination of curfew and lockdown. If the 18:00 lockdown is shown to be effective enough at slowing the spread of the virus, this could be maintained from Monday to Friday.  

Then, at the weekend stricter confinement measures would come into force. This would likely limit reasons for leaving the house to essential reasons only, with travel exemption forms needed. 

Introducing such a measure would effectively restrict travel between regions and gatherings of family and friends.


A ‘light’ lockdown

A lighter lockdown would be comparable to the confinement measures in place in France from October 18-December 15, 2020.

During this confinement, universities, bars, restaurants and cultural centres were closed. But schools remained open and many other businesses including factories and public services continued operating. Visits to care homes were also possible.

Travel exemption forms were needed but a much wider range of reasons for leaving the house was permitted than during confinement in spring.

This kind of lockdown could have benefits on morale and the economy, and the chamber of commerce and President of employer federation Medef, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, are in favour of this solution. 

He told news source La Dépêche: “We are asking for the right balance, which means leaving shops open and not falling back into the slightly absurd debate about what is and is not essential, which we had in November.

“We would like schools to stay open too. If they close it has an impact on the economy.”

He added that the confinement should also as be as short as possible, to limit the economic impact.

A ‘very tight’ lockdown

This option is being seriously considered, as Mr Attal said it would have a “quick and efficient effect on slowing the circulation of the virus”.

This kind of lockdown would be comparable to the first national lockdown which began in spring 2020 – with the possible exception of schools remaining open.

Speaking about the possibility of confinement, head of LREM MPs Christophe Castaner yesterday said that the government was trying to “find a balance” between protecting but not quarantining people in France, and in this context “students should be able to go to school”.

But another possible scenario is that the confinement will coincide with the February school holidays, which would be elongated so that school children could stay at home for longer. 

Jean-François Delfraissy told news source BFMTV on January 24: “We could imagine adapting the school holidays. We could maybe add an extra week, or group the holidays [for each region] during the same period.”

The idea of a strict confinement is supported by many experts. Infectious illness expert Professor Eric Caumes told BFMTV on January 25: “We must lockdown rigorously starting from now and for four weeks,  rather than having a weak confinement that lasts for weeks.”

More announcements from the government are expected soon.

Related stories:

'Very tight' lockdown is one option under review in France

Why have some areas of France reported a lack of Covid jabs?

Fears of some civil disobedience if new lockdown in France

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