French senators call for more freedom of movement as Covid virus appears to slow

NOV 21, 2020 LISTEN

68 centrist and right wing senators in France have called for an easing of restrictions on movement and outdoor activities, as concerns grow over health risks linked to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. This comes as health authorities say the virus has likely passed its peak. 

68 senators have written to Prime Minister Jean Castex asking him to ease restrictions on physical exercise imposed on 30 October as part of the second lockdown.

Under the current Covid-19 restrictions, people can only go outside for essential work purposes, medical appointments, to help vulnerable individuals, buy food or exercise alone for one hour within a 1km radius of their homes.

The signatories say that "limitating outdoor physical exercise makes no sense" given that "public health concerns are taking precedence over the rest".

"Rrecent health studies show that the risk of contamination from Covid-19 outdoors, providing health measures are respected, is virtually nil", read the letter, which was seen by AFP on Saturday.

On the other hand "it is all the more important to take into consideration the risks linked to our sedentary lifestyle, as many of our citizens are currently working from home and therefore reducing their daily physical activity".

Among the risks, the senators cite cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and anxiety - all of which are aggravated by a sedentary lifestyle.

On Thursday health minister Olivier Véran described France's increasing mental health problems during lockdown as  the “hidden face” of the epidemic.

On Tuesday this week, President Emmanuel Macron held a visioconference with the sports sector during which he said he hoped to reopen sports facilities to children in December if health conditions allowed, along with reinforced protocols to allow some indoor sports.

Doctors, meanwhile, had already warned of the dangers lack of exercise poses to teenagers and children.

Restrictions remain in place for privately run gyms and fitness centres for adults.

No lifting of lockdown yet

On Friday France's health agency (SPF) said the country may be past the worst of its second wave of coronavirus infections, although it warned that protective measures should be kept in place.

After recent curfews and lockdowns, the number of confirmed new infections dropped 40 percent last week, admissions to hospital fell 13 percent, and the number of new intensive care patients was down nine percent, SPF said. 

The number of Covid-related deaths in hospitals had also dropped slightly to 386, down from 436 the previous day.

The data provided fresh arguments for shop owners in France who have been lobbying to be allowed to reopen for the crucial Christmas period, while the government was trying to decide what to do about the coming Black Friday shopping spree.

France will find out more next Tuesday evening when President Macron is due to talk about the country's coronavirus crisis, in particular the prospects for travel and family gatherings during the holiday break.

The government has made it clear, however, that lifting lockdown is not on the agenda for now.

On Wednesday Macron said the number of daily cases must fall below 5,000 before the government could start significantly easing the latest restrictions.

On Friday SPF recorded 22,882 new infections.