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Why has France announced a lockdown two weeks after curfew?

The 21:00 curfew first introduced by the government on October 16 has quickly been rendered obsolete by a national confinement

Reader question: First we were just wearing masks in the street and then within two weeks a few departments got a curfew, then lots and now a national lockdown. What’s going on?

Less than two weeks after a curfew was first introduced in France to stem the flow of coronavirus, President Emmanuel Macron has announced the country will once again be placed under lockdown

The ruling will come into effect from midnight tonight (Thursday, October 29) and will last until at least December 1. It means that the 21:00 to 06:00 curfew measures, that were in place in 54 departments in France, are no longer applicable. 

Mr Macron made no mention of the curfew during his speech announcing the lockdown on Wednesday. However, he did speak about the rapidity in which coronavirus is spreading in France.

“The virus is circulating in France at a speed that even the most pessimistic predictions had not anticipated. Unlike the first wave, all regions are now at the alert threshold,” he said.

In his speech, he said that “we are all, in Europe, surprised by the evolution of the virus” and that “we are submerged by the sudden acceleration of the virus”. 

It is thought that the speed in which Covid-19 case numbers have been rising in France has led to the decision to abandon the curfew after only two weeks and implement a national lockdown instead. 

“After consulting scientists, talking with political, economic and social actors, exchanging views with our European partners, and weighing up the pros and cons, I decided that from Friday onwards, we must restore the confinement that stopped the virus,” Mr Macron said.

And the president defended his government’s strategy in tackling the virus.

"Have we done everything right? No, I said it a fortnight ago, we can always improve, but we have done everything possible and I deeply believe that our strategy was, given the information we had, the right one.” 

Coronavirus in numbers

“If we don't put a hard stop to the contaminations today, our hospitals will be saturated very quickly, and this time we won't be able to transfer many patients from one region to another because the virus is everywhere,” Mr Macron said in his speech.

“We know that no matter what we do, nearly 9,000 patients will be in intensive care by mid-November, i.e. almost all of France's capacity,” he added. 

Currently, over 20,000 people are in hospital in France due to Covid-19, with 3,045 of them in intensive care units. 

In the past week, France has regularly reported over 30,000 new cases of the virus daily. 

58% of intensive care beds are currently occupied by people with coronavirus. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, France has reported 1,235,132 cases of Covid-19. Over 35,000 people have died from the virus. 

During Mr Macron’s speech, he ruled out the idea of a lockdown aimed only at elderly or vulnerable people. 

In its latest weekly coronavirus update, Santé Publique France noted that among the over 65s, there have been six times more coronavirus cases and five times more hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care since the beginning of September. 

But Mr Macron said that despite this young people are still affected by the virus and so a demographically targeted lockdown would not work. 

35% of patients in intensive care units for Covid-19 are under 65 years old. 

Did the curfew have any effect?

The measures were not in place long enough to know, said Michèle Legeas, a teacher at the École des Hautes Études en Santé Publique and a specialist in the analysis and management of health risk situations. 

“What we know from modelling is that, given the incubation and transmission periods, it takes two to three weeks to see whether a measure is effective or not. This is what we saw during [the first] confinement," she told French newspaper 20 Minutes.

“It's like a boat: it doesn’t stop immediately even if you turn off the engines,” she added. 

In the overseas department of French Guiana, there has been a curfew in place since May 11. At first it was imposed from 23:00 but was gradually toughened and now starts at 17:00, with a ban on going out on Saturday afternoons and Sunday. 

Clara de Bort, the director of the regional health agency in French Guiana, the curfew has been “very effective”. She said that the number of cases stopped increasing “very quickly” after curfew was imposed. 

She added that it is not comparable to the situation in metropolitan France where the population is older and therefore more likely to develop serious forms of Covid-19.

Read more about the second lockdown:

How will France’s new lockdown be different from spring?

France lockdown: What is open and what is not?

France second lockdown: Your questions answered

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