Covid-19 update: Majority of France now ‘red’ zones

More than half of departments in France are now considered to be “red” zones where Covid-19 is “actively” spreading, the latest figures show (but schools are still relaxing their health protocol rules).

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The number was confirmed in an update by the ministry of health on Saturday, September 19.

A “red” status means that the “epidemic dynamic” is seen to be deteriorating, and the incidence level is at more than 50 positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past seven days. In some areas, a department may be declared “red” when the incident level reaches 30.

On Saturday, 13 more departments were added to the “red” list, bringing the total number to 55. These included Marne, Haute-Marne, Tarn, Vienne, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Aveyron, Calvados, Doubs, Eure, Gers, Indre-et-Loire, Saône-et-Loire and Territoire de Belfort.

On a practical level, a “red” status gives the department authorities extra powers to impose rules such as introducing a limit on gatherings, and the closure of places that normally offer public access (such as bars, restaurants, and cinemas).

Authorities can also impose rules such as mandatory mask-wearing in busy public areas, or in all public spaces.

Restrictions vary depending on the department.

Among the new rules are:

Calvados - Mask required in several busy streets and squares. Lawns and gardens off-limits between 18:00 and 06:00.

Indre-et-Loire - Ban on public dance parties and cocktail parties. Increased testing. Mandatory masks in certain towns, and across all university campuses, even in outside spaces.

Doubs - Regional health agency l’Agence Régionale de Santé (ARS) and local authorities are set to introduce new measures from today (Monday, September 21).

The most recent figures from health body Santé Publique France (SPF), on Sunday September 20, showed 10,569 new cases in the past 24 hours, and 12 more deaths. There were 3,894 new hospitalisations over the previous seven days, of which 593 were into intensive care. There are 1,045 cluster outbreaks being investigated, with 40 more confirmed in the past 24 hours.

Red zones...but schools relax rules as ‘children low risk’

The rise in “red” zones comes as health council le Haut Conseil pour la Santé Publique (HCSP) announced a loosening of the current “health protocol” in schools from Tuesday September 22.

The new rules will mean that if one child tests positive for the virus, they will be required to self-isolate at home, but “class will continue normally for the other pupils, who will no longer be considered as contacts”.

The ministry of education confirmed the changes on Sunday September 20. Minister for national education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said: “It will more likely be that from three new cases [rather than only one], that we might be at the point of closing down the class.”

Previously, the rules stated that if even one child tested positive for the virus, all their co-pupils and teachers would be considered as “contacts”, requiring the entire class to be tested and the class to be closed for at least seven days. It would only be allowed to re-open seven days after the last confirmed case.

The minister said this system would still apply, but only if three or more children had tested positive in the class.

Similarly, teachers and teaching assistants who wear masks at work will no longer be considered “contacts”, even if they have cared for or taught a pupil that later tests positive.

The HCSP explained that children are not considered high-risk cases. It said: “Children are at very low risk of a severe form of the illness, and are not very active in the spread of the virus.”

Currently, almost 2,000 classes across 76 schools (and almost 90 schooling or educational establishments) in France are closed due to Covid-19 (out of 61,000 schools in total). It is hoped that the new rules will allow more classes and schools to stay open.

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