By Luis Miguel Pascual
Paris, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Given the “worrying” spread of Covid-19 in France, driven by the virulent British strain of the coronavirus, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a light form of quarantine lasting for the next month in the country’s most-affected 16 departments, including the capital, containing 23 million French citizens, a third of the population.
At this time, the French government is maintaining its confidence in its vaccination program to overcome the crisis and, after the favorable opinion rendered by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), he said that starting Friday immunizations will resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine, after its use was temporarily suspended last Monday.
The government identified the most-affected zones, where it is imposing a perimeter cordon, including Paris, Hauts-de-France in the northwest, Alpes-Maritimes along the Mediterranean coast and Seine Maritime and Eure in the northeast.
Convinced that the virus spreads less quickly in open areas, the government is banking – starting this week – on allowing people in those departments to go to parks and open areas in a radius of 10 km (6.2 miles) from their homes but will seek to severely curtail gatherings in closed spaces.
The government believes it is essential to allow the public to venture out into open areas for their psychological equilibrium, and the premier said that the start of the curfew will be delayed nationwide to 7 pm.
France – where all bars, restaurants and leisure locales have remained closed, along with theaters, museums and moviehouses since the end of October 2020 – is expanding the measure in those 16 departments to include all non-essential businesses.
In all, 110,000 establishments will be closed in the affected zones, although bookstores and record stores will be allowed to remain open.
In addition, the number of students allowed in classrooms will be cut in half although schools will continue operating normally, Castex said, refusing to use the word “confinement” to describe the new move.
The prime minister issued yet another call to make telecommuting more general to reduce infections in the workplace, which represent 29 percent of the caseload to date.
However, he acknowledged that the measures adopted so far have not managed to cut the spread of the pandemic in half, and France’s hospital system is still threatened with intensive care units in Paris filled to 102 percent of their capacity, but he also warned of the dangers inherent in a severe quarantine such as those adopted in March and November 2020.
Castex said that the move was “pragmatic, proportional and limited in territory,” contrasting it with Germany’s tough three-month lockdown and Italy, which is on the verge of declaring a fourth quarantine.
He said the move was the “French way” of “halting the virus without closing down the country.”
The Economy Ministry calculated the impact of the measures at 0.2 percent of GDP, noting that the 1.2 billion euros (about $1.45 billion) in aid to the most affected sectors will bring the total cost to the public treasury to some 7.2 billion euros ($8.7).
The vaccination campaign will accelerate in April with the arrival of new vaccine doses from all laboratories and by the middle of the month, all adults 75 and older and all vulnerable people 50 and older are scheduled to have been immunized.
In May, expectations are that all people 50 and older will have been vaccinated – 20 million people in all – and by mid-June two-thirds of France’s population over age 18, 30 million people, will have been inoculated.