France is not set to impose a new lockdown for now and the government continues to see the measure as a “last resort”, the prime minister has said - but several medical experts say this is the wrong decision.
Prime Minister Jean Castex made the announcement during a press conference last night. Current measures would be enforced even more strongly, he said, but there is no new lockdown planned for now.
This is because while case numbers in France are still high, they are “relatively stable”, meaning that the situation does “not currently justify [confinement]”, the prime minister said.
Yet, he said that the government remained cautious in light of the new virus variants, and the drop in the number of people working from home, and the prime minister did not rule out the possibility of a new lockdown in future if the health situation worsens.
He said: “Everything must be put in place to avoid [a new confinement].”
He urged the public to make a "collective effort...to make the virus retreat".
Mr Castex emphasised that instead of a new lockdown, there would be much stricter enforcement of the current measures.
- Increased checks on movement after 18:00 curfew
- Closure of all non-EU borders, except for imperative reasons
- Travellers from the EU require a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours. If this is not the case, French citizens must pay a fine. Others may be refused entry to France.
- Continued closure of non-food commercial centres over 20,000m2 and stricter controls in centres of more than 400m2
- It is “imperative” to work from home if possible
France has so far not limited travel between regions - even as the first February holidays begin tomorrow - because the virus is relatively evenly spread across the entire country, the prime minister said.
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France is also seeking to step up testing, and use more saliva tests for children and people who cannot be tested using the usual nasal swab. France is currently doing the equivalent of four tests per second.
Mr Castex called on the public to continue "testing and staying alert, and applying barrier measures, and respecting the public measures...to ease [pressure] on our healthcare workers".
He said: "We are in a long fight, which is not over yet, which needs resistance and perseverance, and a sense of solidarity and responsibility, and I know we are capable of it."
Calls for more home working
Ministers have also sounded the alarm over the decreasing numbers of people working from home. Numbers were highest in mid-November, but these had fallen rapidly by mid-January.
Work Minister Elisabeth Borne said: “A third of people who can work from home are not doing so.”
She called on all those who can work from home to do so, or to limit visits to the workplace to just one day per week.
France has been working to avoid a new lockdown for several weeks, with President Emmanuel Macron saying he is aiming for a country that is “as open as possible”.
Read more: No new Covid rules yet as Macron aims to keep France ‘open’
Yet, several experts within the medical community have come out against Mr Castex’s announcement.
Professor Gilbert Deray, head of service at the Pitié Salpêtrière (AP-HP) hospital in Paris, said that it appeared that the government was no longer making decisions based on health as the main factor.
He told news service BFMTV: “If health was the priority, with 500 deaths a day and 25,000 new cases a day, which we had in March, we would impose [lockdown] again. [But] it seems that is not the priority. It’s not a healthcare choice, it’s another choice.
"We said before, at the end of the last confinement, that more than 3,000 cases per day was 'worrying'. We've forgotten about all of that."
He asked: “What is better, close the country for four, six, eight weeks as in March, or have a plateau [of cases] for around six to nine months, as we are seeing now with the current measures?
"The only way to break the epidemic is to lockdown completely, which is what most most countries around the world are doing."
Dr Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris, told the network that the situation was “complicated”, and agreed that the decision not to re-confine was “political”.
She said: “From a healthcare perspective, we are in an extremely critical period, because - whatever they say - the figures are not very good; we are seeing a rise in people going into intensive care, a rise in hospital admissions.
“We have a system that is saturating. How long are we going to continue to ‘get used to’ this saturated system? This is a political decision.”
Dr Hélène Rossinot, public health specialist, has also said that she is surprised that the government is not taking more drastic measures.
She told BFMTV: “It worries me. We are not currently in a ‘third wave’, we are completely drowning, we are under water. The number of [daily confirmed] cases is still at 20,000; 25,000 - that is already huge.
“Looking at previous confinements, we were being alerted much earlier. Same for hospitalisations and intensive care units. What we are tolerating now, we were not accepting six months ago.
“I think that we are becoming more and more tolerant [of a bad situation], by saying that we are not imposing another lockdown.”
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