How France is handling Covid-19
Despite facing criticisms from public opinion since the start of the covid-19 crisis, the French government has been dealing successfully in slowing the spread of the disease. According to Santé Publique France (the French national health agency) hospitalisations have declined from 32,131 people at its peak on the 14th of April to 7,946 people as of the 3rd of July. Praised for its social security and healthcare system, the sixth economic power in the world has managed a slow but steady decline of the virus circulation within its population.
The stability of the situation in France is for the most part due to drastic measures taken by the French President Emmanuel Macron and enforced by the now former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. Macron first ordered the closure of educational institutions (primary and secondary school, higher education) and daycare starting from the 15th of March. Two days later Philippe asked for the closure of public spaces considered non-essential such as restaurants, cafés, cinemas, nightclubs and banned public gatherings. However, images on social media circulated worldwide showing French people ignoring these measures, crowding parks and brazenly enjoying picnics in the sunny weather. Displeased by the public's defiance Macron ordered a national lockdown as of the 17th of March.
Even dispersed relatives were asked to not reunite for fear of spreading the virus and numerous families from the capital and its suburbs fled down to the countryside leaving their enclosed apartments. Workplace closure encouraged tele-working and France has been the first country to implement an economic support program for individuals and businesses ensuring 11 million people received at least 80% of their wages. No one could leave their house without a signed and dated authorisation specifying the purpose of the outing: essential work that couldn't be done at home (with a written proof of the employer), shopping for food, and going to the doctor or the pharmacist, walking a dog and exercising alone. Police controlled people outside and distributed fines (up to a 135 euros) to those who did not comply. Wearing a mask out has become common place and even compulsory in public transport.
The country has never appeared more united as when local authorities started handing out handmade reusable masks or restaurants sent meals to healthcare workers.
Conglomerate philanthropy has not gone unnoticed as luxury conglomerate LVMH (which owns Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Guerlain, and Givenchy) and beauty giant L'Oréal provided free of charge hand sanitizers to health authorities. BNP Paribas donated 500,000 masks to Paris hospitals, Renault lent some 300 of its cars to medical personnel. Wine and spirits institution Pernod Ricard donated some 70,000 litres of alcohol in order to produce large quantities of hydroalcoholic gels. Unity and solidarity in times of crisis is essential. So is civic mindedness and discipline which indeed paid off: hospitals and health services have not been overwhelmed and succeeded in containing the virus mostly in the north and the east of the country.
With 166,960 cases reported by Santé Publique, France is the fifth country most contaminated in Europe (the United Kingdom being the most contaminated country in Europe with a total of 284,900 confirmed cases) and the 17th worldwide (the US being the most contaminated country in the world with a total of 2.84 million confirmed cases). Whereas other European countries such as the UK remains supportive of their government, public opinion in France remains vastly critical which mostly has to do with the French lack of trust in institutions and dissatisfaction with its leaders.
Albeit a bit slow compared to its neighbours and in spite of some masks' shortage and testing capabilities issues, French government has done its job. If the country gradually started lifting the lockdown since June it's because France has been able to contain the spread of Covid 19 and bring the situation under control in this unprecedented sanitary crisis.
The writer is a journalist based in France