France is debating whether to return to lockdown

Paris suggests closing the city for three weeks but the government is only considering weekend measures

3 min
People wearing masks in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Friday

BarcelonaThe first deputy mayor of Paris City Hall, Emmanuel Grégoire, opened Pandora's box on Thursday night when, on a radio interview, he said that the French capital could be in lockdown for three weeks to drastically reduce the number of cases of covid-19 and thus "have the prospect of reopening everything" afterwards. Later, the number two of the city council led by the Socialist Anne Hidalgo has clarified his words to make it clear that it was only a hypothesis, but the basic idea remains: the restrictions currently in force in France are "extremely restrictive", they are dragging on for too long, they are not having "sufficiently convincing" health results and they do not guarantee that, in the end, it will not be necessary to go into lockdown too.

Gabriel Attal, spokesman for the French government, which has the authority to approve such measures, said Friday morning that the administration "will study" the proposal of the city if it ends up being formalized, which is not expected to happen before Monday. However, a few hours later the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, has ruled it out: "The City of Paris says that we need to go into lockdown for three weeks and then that's it", he said during a visit to a hospital, "but you know very well that with the variants [of the virus] this is not possible. There is no need to say stupid things".

On Thursday, Castex had placed Paris on the list of 20 departments where epidemiological indicators showed a more worrying evolution and where the government was considering tightening measures to contain the coronavirus from next weekend on. The prime minister, however, ruled out a return to total lockdown - an option that, according to him, should be delayed as long as possible - and pointed rather towards weekend lockdowns, along the lines of those that have been imposed for this weekend and next weekend in the conurbations of Dunkerque (in the far north of the country) and Nice (on the Mediterranean coast). In any case, he said, the measures would have to be adopted in agreement with local authorities. From Paris, however, weekend lockdown is considered an inappropriate measure, because it is "very restrictive from the point of view of social impact and rather ineffective from the scientific point of view", according to Grégorie.

Four-month curfew

On October 14, French President Emmanuel Macron decreed a nighttime curfew in the country's main cities - which would later be extended to more than half of the territory - with the aim of curbing the rapid growth in the number of contagions that was beginning to be recorded. The measure was not sufficiently effective, and on 30 October the country entered a second home lockdown that lasted until 15 December and managed to significantly slow down the spread of the virus. However, since then the curfew has remained in force, and has even been extended: since 16 January it has been forbidden to leave the house without a justified reason between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Bars and restaurants have also been closed since October.

Despite these four months of restrictions, France has not managed to keep the virus at bay. Right now it is the third country in the world that registers the most new infections every day (25,403, this Thursday), behind the United States and Brazil, and its cumulative incidence stands at 214 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last week, well above countries like Germany (63) or Spain (84). France, in fact, is the sixth country in the world with more cumulative infections since the beginning of the pandemic, with 3.7 million people, and the seventh with more deaths, with nearly 85,600.

Faced with these data, it is not only the City of Paris who thinks that the ideal solution would be another lockdown. This Friday, several voices in the health field have called on Macron's government to act quickly and re-order citizens to stay at home. For example, Dr. Philippe Juvin, head of the emergency department of the Parisian hospital Georges Pompidou, has taken it for granted that sooner or later the French will have to stay at home again and warned that the later this decision is taken, the longer the measure will have to last. "I don't know what we're waiting for", he said, speaking on BFM TV. Juvin, who is also the mayor of the town of La Garenne-Colombes, in the Ile de France, for the conservative Republican Party, believes that closing only the city of Paris would not make sense, but that "the whole region should be taken into account".