France heads for new Covid crisis as deaths start to rise


France appears poised to lose its battle to prevent a second wave of coronavirus as cases rise and public unrest escalates over the government’s response.The concern prompted an intervention from President Emmanuel Macron who said on Friday that the response should be “lucid, very transparent, demanding but at the same time proportionate”.

Despite Mr Macron’s call for calm, France’s Covid maelstrom could now be further provoked by an announcement from his public health agency that deaths have started to rise for the first time since the lockdown ended in May.

265 people have died from the virus this week compared to 129 the last, agency data reveal, bringing the total number of deaths from the pandemic in France to 31,095.

While a recent outbreak of infections has mainly affected young people, infections are also increasing rapidly among those over 75. And that trend has led to an increase in admissions to hospital and intensive care units, the agency said.

The peak has placed French hospitals on emergency bases. This morning, the French channel RBS tweeted that “Marseille hospitals are launching a distress call: between their general activity and the care of new cases of Covid19, the situation is tense in the services.

The number of new infections was down 8% from the previous week, but any hope raised by the decrease was dashed by the agency, which warned it was likely an “underestimate” of infections due to saturation of screening capacity in some areas.

Testing furore leads to trouble

There is also growing concern about the difficulty in obtaining a test – especially in the Paris region – due to demand. The shortage led Prime Minister Jean Castex to admit last week that his government must do better.

The testing turmoil has already seen overwhelmed French testers go on strike as in Marseille on Thursday, crowds gathered to protest against school closings precipitated by striking testers.

In the absence of a functional testing regime, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday that France was preparing tighter restrictions in several cities to curb the Covid surge after daily infections exceeded 10,000 twice last week . In the past 24 hours, figures from the Department of Health showed cases had increased by 10,593.

The proclamation has already been carried in the city of Nice on the French Riviera, where restrictions announced on Friday include a maximum of groups of 10 people allowed to congregate in its parks and beaches. It will also be banned from buying or consume alcohol. in public in town after 8 p.m. when bars can no longer open all night and the authorities lower the ceiling for participation in major public events to 1,000 people against 5,000 previously.

The French lawmaker is eagerly hoping that new, faster saliva tests announced by Mr Veran on Thursday will prove feasible. An announcement is expected later on Friday.

The rise in French infections of more than 10,000 on Thursday was the most eye-catching figure among increases elsewhere in Europe, with new cases in Germany rising by more than 2,000 on Friday, the most since late April.

Portugal reported the highest number of new infections in five months on Thursday, at 770, while Spanish cases rose at a slower pace than the day before, but still by more than 4,500.

Health officials attribute the increase to social gatherings, especially among young people, and to travelers reporting the virus from vacation. The upward trend threatens to derail Europe’s attempt to revive, if governments are forced to tighten restrictions on movement further.

Reluctance to take a draconian path

Politicians are reluctant to reimpose strict lockdowns as it would likely alienate voters already tired from more than six months of disrupted daily life, but they could be pressured into action if the disease cannot be brought under control.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to rule out a second nationwide lockdown on Friday and said the acceleration of cases and hospital admissions across Britain represented a “big moment”. The UK’s daily workload has averaged over 3,300 over the past week, putting infections at a level not seen since May.

“The pandemic is back in most of our countries,” German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said before a video conference with European Union counterparts. “We have to make sure that the recovery trend in Europe is not hampered and threatened by the increase in the number of infections.”

Speculation circulated on Friday that the Spanish government could be forced to put the Madrid region back into some sort of lockdown and possibly reimpose a state of emergency. Spain is in the world’s top 10 countries with the most active Covid cases, as this table shows.

And Ireland is expected to declare that most bars in Dublin will be closed from Saturday and that travel to and from the city will be restricted. Austria bans indoor gatherings of more than 10 people from Monday after bars, clubs and private parties fueled new infections.

Greece is also set to announce on Friday a second package of measures in four days to contain the spread of the virus in the Attica region, including the capital Athens, according to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

“It is clear that there is an issue with the coronavirus in Attica that needs to be addressed,” Mitsotakis said. The measures are likely to include limits on public gatherings and the suspension of cultural events for 14 days, as well as efforts to encourage homeworking in the public and private sectors.

Updated: September 18, 2020 9:29 PM


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