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16.01.2021 Europe

France prepares for nationwide 6pm curfew as Covid cases rise

By Alison Hird with RFI
LISTEN JAN 16, 2021

All of mainland France will be put into a 6pm to 6am curfew from Saturday in a bid to stem the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Some people have questioned the utility of this, while the French scientific council says another lockdown looks increasingly necessary.

With close to 20,000 new Covid cases per day, the French government is looking for new ways to reduce social contact without imposing a third lockdown.

As announced on Thursday evening, prime minister Jean Castex has opted to extend the 6pm curfew, currently in place in 25 departements, to the whole country for at least the next two weeks. The government argues the earlier curfew has proven effective.

People on the streets of Paris expressed mixed reactions, with some stressing the inconvenience.

“It'll be more complicated as we can no longer do the shopping after leaving work,” and “I'll have to pick my son up earlier and reorganise my work schedule,” two young mothers told RFI.

While some people working full-time from home thought it would “make no difference”, a young woman regretted “no longer having time for after-work sport”.

Life will be reduced to “work, childcare and shopping. Not much fun!” another woman told RFI.

“It changes nothing, we've already adapted and continue to adapt, unfortunately,” said a middle-aged man philosophically. “But it does impact your social life for sure. It's the end of the aperitif!”

Killing the social virus

That was indeed the point of it all. Earlier this week, the ruling party's Stanislas Guerini said the 6pm curfew was aimed at “countering the aperitif effect” – a form of “social virus” – by limiting gatherings among family and friends.

That may or may not happen.
On Friday, Le Parisien daily spoke to a group of 20-somethings enjoying a drink on the pavement in front of a bar in the trendy Marais district in the centre of town.

Under current health measures, bars, cafés and restaurants can stay open for takeaways outside of the curfew. Customers are not meant to socialise in front of the premises, but some do.

“There are so many people, it's as if the terraces were open!” Cyril, a 20-year-old business student, told the paper saying he and his friends would adapt to the earlier curfew and “just start drinking earlier in the afternoon”.

A further blow to retail

As with the 8pm curfew, travel outside the home during curfew will only be allowed for essential reasons (picking up children from school or childcare, working late, looking after relatives etc.) and requires people to carry an exemption certificate.

But shops and businesses open to the public will have to close at 6pm sharp. This is bad news for the retail trade just a few days before the winter sales begin and for restaurants, struggling to stay afloat by offering takeaways.

The clothing sector estimates it makes 20 percent of its turnover between 6pm and 8pm.

In the southern city of Narbonne some people took to the streets to protest the curfew.

Calls for third lockdown

The government has ruled out a third lockdown for now, but has warned "we must prepare for another" if the curfew fails to slow down the spread of the virus.

In addition to the earlier curfew, France's scientific council recommended the introduction of restrictions on movement between regions, more homeworking and self-isolation for elderly people or those with fragile health.

It proposed putting regions where the virus is circulating the most under an adapted lockdown like the one in October or stricter one as in March.

Speed up vaccination

In its report published on Friday, the council also called for France to speed up its vaccination campaign, warning of a “race against time” due to new variants from the UK and South Africa, which are believed to be more contagious.

87 cases of the UK variant, and four of the South African form have officially been recorded in France, according to the health ministry.

As of 15 January, only 389,000 people in France had received the jab.

The government aims to innoculate 1 million people by the end of January, and will extend its campaign to the over 75s outside nursing homes (some 6.2 million people) on 18 January.

833 vaccination centres are now “open for reservations” health minister Olivier Véran announced on Friday.

The campaign, however, threatens to be slowed down following the announcement by Pfizer and BioNTech that they could no longer deliver their vaccine to the EU for the time being.

Vaccination watchdog

Saturday also sees the launch of France's citizens' vaccine committee. This group of 35 randomly-chosen citizens will meet regularly over the next nine months to monitor how the campaign is going.

They're tasked with gathering their observations, doubts and questions, although the government is under no obligation to follow them.

The committee will serve above all as a barometer for the authorities. The government needs to get widespread support for the campaign because it will only be effective if a large majority of the French agree to get a jab.

A number of surveys have shown as many as half of the French are wary of the Covid vaccine, although scepticism appears to be waning.

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