“Pragmatic, proportionate and regional” is the new formula with which France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex is trying to make the third partial lockdown palatable to part of the population. From Friday evening, new rules will apply to 16 French departments, especially in the northeast of the country, which are intended to curb the spread of the pandemic. Because of incidence values of almost 400 or more, Paris and the surrounding area and the only department in the south of the Alpes-Maritime region, the region bordering Italy, are also affected.
The lockdown may be regionally limited, but with around 20 million people it affects almost a third of the population and should apply for “at least four weeks”. The measures act like a “lockdown light” compared to what applied in France during the first, strict lockdown, which lasted 55 days in the spring. On closer inspection, they turn out to be a pragmatic compromise in a complex trade-off between societal costs and benefits.
Three other restrictions in addition to the night curfew are intended to curb the spread of the virus in the 16 departments: the restriction of freedom of movement and travel, the closure of all shops classified as “not essential” and the reintroduction of the pass. An alarming appeal has been sent to all employers and employees to work from home at least four days a week.
All schools remain open. Only in grammar schools there is now no longer only the recommendation, but the obligation to only receive half classes alternately in face-to-face lessons. The nationwide night curfew will be postponed from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. due to the upcoming summer time change.
With reference to the German neighbors, Castex said that a lockdown since the end of January would probably have to last for weeks and would then have lasted a total of three months, which would have been “excessive and unbearable”.
Doctors and epidemiologists, who had sharply criticized Macron’s wait-and-see attitude since the end of January, are largely “positively surprised” by these measures, as epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola puts it. She had feared that Macron would only bring himself to a weekend lockdown, as before in Dunkirk and Nice. “But the measures are much stronger and can have a noticeable effect,” said the expert.
Almost 35,000 new infections were registered in France on Thursday. In a weekly comparison, the numbers have increased by 18.8 percent. The nationwide seven-day incidence is currently 266 infections per 100,000 inhabitants, but the regional differences are enormous. The Seine-Saint-Denis department in the north of Paris has the highest incidence value with 513 infections.
4,246 patients are currently being treated in intensive care units, more than a quarter of them in hospitals in the greater Paris area, which are already overburdened. Patients could not be evacuated to other regions as planned because either the sick cannot be transported or the families simply refuse to give their consent.
President Emmanuel Macron had already announced in advance that he wanted to “reinvent” the lockdown. People around the president said that under no circumstances did he want to allow a “dictatorship of scientists and medical professionals”. “Acceptability” has become his most important criterion, an ugly word, but one that can be used to describe a mixture of acceptability, approval and appropriateness.
Children and adolescents should no longer suffer
In fact, Macron is said to have vowed to “never lock the French up again,” as reported from the Élysée Palace. In view of the skyrocketing number of infections and what is now unanimously referred to as the third wave, a “third way” is being tried.
This should keep the social price low and keep an eye on economic as well as social and psychological effects. “Slow down, but don’t lock up” is the government’s maxim, which looks like a well-found advertising slogan with a view to the presidential elections in a year’s time.
Above all, the children and young people should not be the main victims again. Closing schools remains the very last resort. A policy that has been criticized. Saliva tests have shown that the coronavirus is active in schools because 0.5 percent have proven positive. This corresponds to an incidence of 500 cases per 100,000 tests.
Officially, the incidence among 0 to 19-year-olds is 212, but children are often without symptoms. However, your parents can still infect them. Epidemiologists had advised them in all seriousness weeks ago to wear a mask at home and to eat separately from the children.
When announcing the new restrictions, Prime Minister Castex emphasized that the majority of infections take place in closed rooms, which is why he does not want to prohibit sports and walks in the fresh air.
The intensive care doctor Jean-Michel Constantin described the new restrictions as an “airy lockdown”. Airy because, unlike the two previous lockdowns, people can theoretically spend the whole day outside not just for an hour, but between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The range of motion, which was limited to one kilometer in the first and second lockdowns, is now ten kilometers. However, everyone must have a certificate with them, a measure whose usefulness is beyond common sense.
The strict rules of previous lockdowns had earned France the reputation of being the European “absurdistan”. Parks, forests and beaches were closed, even if you could have kept distance rules there. Now everyone is allowed to go out into nature or on the street, but they have to issue their own certificates.
The French government’s calculation is to slow down the epidemic through regional measures and the night curfew and meanwhile to accelerate the vaccination campaign. Almost half of those over 75 have now been vaccinated.
After France had also suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week, Prime Minister Castex wants to be vaccinated with it on Friday afternoon to show that “we can have full confidence”. He also promised that 10 million people will be vaccinated in mid-April, 20 in mid-May and 30 million by summer, almost half of the population.