In Depth

How France is handling its coronavirus spike

PM Jean Castex and other ministers are facing legal action over virus policy following record-breaking rise in Covid cases

The French government is facing calls to take urgent action to stem a spike in coronavirus cases that has triggered fears of so-called second wave of infections.

France’s Health Ministry reported a 10,593 new Covid cases on Thursday - the highest daily tally since the pandemic began - “prompting officials to urge people to limit social gatherings and maintain handwashing and other protective measures”, says Paris-based news agency AFP.

But despite the surge in outbreaks, President Emmanuel Macron and other leading politicians are reluctant to reimpose a national lockdown, saying that citizens must instead “learn to live with” with the virus.

What are the figures?

Alarm bells began to ring last Saturday, when the French authorities confirmed that the daily tally of confirmed new coronavirus infections had soared to 10,561 - marking the first time that thecountry has passed the 10,000 mark in a 24-hour period.

And this record was broken again yesterday, with the total number of cases in France now standing at almost 455,000, while the tally of Covid-related fatalities has climbed to more than 31,100, according to latest figures.

The confirmation of the latest hikes came as “a group of people who have recovered from coronavirus and the families of Covid-19 patients” filed a lawsuit against Prime Minister Jean Castex “for allegedly overseeing dangerous and contradictory management of the outbreak”, says the London Evening Standard.

Several other ministers are also facing legal action over their perceived poor handling of the crisis, including Health Minister Olivier Veran, who this week acknowledged that the virus “is again very active”, the BBC reports.

And the response to the latest outbreaks?

Two of the hardest-hit French cities, Marseille and Bordeaux, have announced tougher restrictions this week, after the PM Castex demanded that both cities enact new laws “to stem their growing numbers of infections, which were putting pressure on regional health services”, reports Euronews.

The authorities in Bordeaux have banned gatherings of more than ten people in public parks, beside the city’s river and on beaches. The new rules also limit the size of large public gatherings to no more than 1,000 people, well below the national permitted limit of 5,000 people.

The regional government in Marseille, France’s second-biggest city after Paris, has announced similar restrictions, along with the “cancellation of an 11-day international festival” and a pledge to “quickly close down bars and restaurants that don’t observe an overnight curfew and that serve clients who stand up”, says the news site.

Meanwhile, the government is ramping up coronavirus testing. Earlier this month, health officials announced plans to open 20 new testing centres in the Paris region, amid soaring demand as a result of la rentree - the operation to reopen workplaces and schools.

And the government has vowed to implement further measures this week to avoid a national lockdown, after Prime Minister Castex admitted that the situation is “obviously worsening”, adding: “For the first time in many weeks, we are noting a substantial increase in the number of hospitalised people.”

But are these pledges enough?

Not according to Bloomberg, which says that the recent surge in cases is “a grim postscript to [the government’s] decision to cut the required quarantine for positive cases in half to seven days”.

The opening of the “testing floodgates” has also caused backlogs in labs, with “tales of waiting as long as eight days for a result in France”, says the news site.  

And France reportedly “fails the coronavirus test” too, with the average number of contacts traced per positive case falling from 4.5 in the week ending 19 July to 2.4 in the week ending 23 August.

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