Covid-19: France faces dilemma to curb infections

Covid-19: France faces dilemma to curb infections
Covid-19: France faces dilemma to curb infections
As in many other parts of the world, people in France have grown tired of following restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Celine – who prefers not to reveal her last name – has been breaking the rules for months. She usually comes back from meetings at friends’ houses with her 2-year-old daughter at around 8:30 pm, despite a nationwide curfew that starts at 7:00 pm.

On the street, sometimes Celine takes off her mask – at least when no one is around – although wearing face protection is mandatory on the streets of Paris. And recently, on a weekend, she went to visit her mother, who lives 80 kilometers away, in the department of Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris. She made the trip, although residents of the capital and 18 other departments, where stricter restrictions have been imposed in the past two weeks, can only move within a 10-kilometer radius around their homes.

Coronavirus ‘absurd’ restrictions

“Of course, I’m afraid of the covid-19. Before visiting my mother, I was tested twice and she was vaccinated ”said Celine. “But I don’t understand why I must follow these absurd rules. Why should we be home at 7:00 pm and not at 8:30 pm and why the hell do I have to stay some distance from my home? ”

Celine has the feeling that the population is paying the price for “incompetence” of the country’s leaders. “The government is unable to manage this crisis. First, we didn’t have masks; then they changed the message and the rules; and now the vaccination campaign is advancing at a snail’s pace. It’s unbelievable”, said with a tone of indignation.

Rejection of rules

Many of your countrymen would agree. Only 56% of those who live in departments with stricter rules approve of the restrictions, according to a survey conducted by the research institute Sodoxa at the request of radio France Info, the newspaper Le Figaro and the Parisian company Backbone Consulting. During the country’s first national lockdown, at the beginning of last year, that number was 96% among the French.

Following this trend, only half of the inhabitants of the areas under the greatest restrictions say they will obey the new rules. Although it is only a “soft lockdown”. Unlike the previous blocks, the daily walks of the inhabitants are no longer limited to an hour, they do not need to fill out a form to leave the house – unless it is during the curfew – and the 10 km rule actually replaces , another much more restrictive one kilometer.

A political decision?

Despite an incidence of 370 new weekly infections per 100,000 inhabitants – a far greater number than in most other European countries – French President Emmanuel Macron prefers to keep restrictions as they are and not impose a stricter national lockdown. As far as Macron is concerned, it all comes down to politics, says Bruno Cautres, from the Center for Political Research at the Science Po institute in Paris.

“In late January, the president decided against a third blockade – contrary to what many experts recommended. He wanted to show that it was he who was in control of the situation, not the virus ”, these Cautres.

For the researcher, Macron acts like a typical French president, who reigns over a very centralized vertical system and wants to appear all-powerful. “But this is also due to Macron’s character. Since his election in 2017, he has shown himself to be very proud and wants to show that he is efficient as president ”, Cautres said, adding that Macron is trying to polish his profile for the next general election in 2022.

The strategy, however, seems to backfire. “Only 16% of the French said in our last survey for the BVA research institute that they thought the president knows what he is doing, compared with 42% last October”, these Cautres.

What’s more, the government’s course of action appears to be inadvertently playing in favor of the far right, says Stephane Wahnich, head of Paris-based research agency SCP communication.

“O [partido] Far-right Rassemblement National now has a stable electoral base. Certain polls predict that its leader, Marine Le Pen, would get 48% of the vote in a runoff against Macron ”, disse Wahnich.

“But what her party needs is a kind of chaos where it could intervene and bring some authoritarian order”, he added. “The government’s epidemic and mismanagement are giving Le Pen this opportunity.”

Wahnich believes that part of the reason why France is now struggling again with a new wave of covid-19 is explained by the economy. “Macron put billions of euros on the table to mitigate the economic damage of the crisis, while, after months of protests for more economic justice for the so-called yellow vests, he feared a social revolution”, points.

“But he invested little in preparing the health sector for the next waves and in the vaccination campaign”, added the analyst.

Doctors may have to screen patients

The first to feel this are the doctors, obviously. Many of them have been pushing for stricter measures to contain the new wave for months, with several opinion articles on the subject published in recent days. One of them, in the weekly Sunday newspaper, was signed by 41 intensive care physicians from the Paris region. The article warned that hospitals would have to start selecting patients for intensive care in the next two weeks.

Antoine Vieillard-Baron, head of a group of intensive care doctors in the Paris region, was one of the signatories. “So far, we have had to cancel 40% of operations not related to the coronavirus, and we will have to care for 3,500 intensive care patients by mid-April, according to estimates based on the number of people already infected”, he said.

“This is 800 more than during the peak of the 1st wave in the spring of 2020 [no hemisfério norte], added Vieillard-Baron. Currently, intensive care units in the region have more than 130% of their normal capacity, with about 1,500 patients.

The doctor therefore asks the government to take stricter – and quicker, measures: “Otherwise, the numbers will go up even more than expected!”. Vieillard-Baron added that the vaccination campaign was not fast enough to contain the increase – about 7.8 million people, that is, 11% of the French population, have already received their first injection.

New measures on the horizon

Macron now appears to be considering the possibility of implementing new measures, with a televised speech scheduled for this Wednesday night. However, it is unlikely that another hard block will regain Celine’s support. “I will not be staying at home again, on 40 square meters with my husband and daughter – that would just be unbearable!” She said. “If those are the rules, I will find ways to get around them.”

Deutsche Welle is Germany’s international broadcaster and produces independent journalism in 30 languages. Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube| WhatsApp | App | Instagram | Newsletter

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