Things will get much worse before they get a bit better

French Prime Minister Phillipe’s decision (in agreement with President Macron, it was emphasised) to extend the lockdown by 2 weeks, until 15 April, showed us a politician perhaps not wholly guided by science. The Government’s Scientific Council had advised that the lockdown would ‘in all likelihood’ have to last ‘at least’ a further 3 weeks. The decision (perhaps thinking of our mental wellbeing?) may indicate extensions must be done piecemeal. Nothing, alas, in France’s COVID19 statistics give grounds for thinking the curve is near to flattening out.

Philippe told us that France was ‘at the beginning of an epidemic wave … which has overwhelmed the East and is now coming to [Greater Paris] and [north-east France]’.

There’s no better presentation of the frightening numbers than in The Financial Times. Their graph of subnational-regions, for example, shows the trajectory of deaths in our Greater Paris Ile-de-France region remains worse than Lombardy, with New York, Catalonia and Madrid worse still. [I’m not the only one who thinks the FT is doing something special: Nobel Prize winner Krugman used their charts today.]

The numbers led Prime Minister Philippe, yesterday, to talk in the most dramatic terms yet: ‘The battle has only just begun. The first two weeks of April will be more challenging than the two weeks we’ve just been through.’

And while Philippe is doubtless worrying about the worsening picture, he will also reflect on The Blame Game.

It’s under way. Parliamentary Committees are limbering-up, prompted by the right-wing Républicains and The Less-Than-Massed Left. All await the moment to attack the Government for procrastination and/or negligence and/or lack of planning (other charges are available). Those Parliamentary procedures will run alongside ‘non-assistance to persons in danger’ manslaughter charges. To which we must add actions against Prime Minister and Interior Minister claiming their decision to hold the municipal election 1st round caused several Marseilles Républicains candidates/party members to catch COVID19. Almost as litigious as the USA round here, even if it will all probably come to nothing. But a bit of a distraction none the less.

When there’s bile in the air, Le Pen must be there

Mme Le Pen has been tweeting complaints against Government as the ‘biggest pedlar of fake news since the crisis began’. She particularly condemned its:

  • failure to prepare
  • ‘locking down’ citizens while ‘freeing’ prisoners [an early release scheme will reduce pressure on prisons, as in several countries]
  • failure to help small businesses enough
  • failure to force private hospitals to help fight the virus
  • failure (like previous governments over 25 years) to insist that every law applied in the banlieues
  • and in a flourish of true National Socialism, a demand for a change of economic model and a strategy of localism, combined with a demand that President and nation 'learn again that 'those who are nothing'*, as the President of the Republic said, are actually 'everything'.'

[* Yes indeed. Macron inaugurated Station F, the largest incubator start-up in the world, in a former railway station, in 2017. An unfortunate rhetorical flourish led Macron to refer to stations as places where one can meet anyone: 'People who succeed and those who are nothing.']

How to relate to the public - and how not to

That heavy-weight 'Scientific Council' might have been in danger of straying from its core role. Their paper (23 March) addresses practical issues, eg 'general practitioners', 'mental health', a possible 10pm - 5am curfew. Yet time was spent discussing 'support for the initiative by representatives of various religious communities to launch a permanent national telephone service ... offering spiritual guidance'. A matter for the Government's 'Scientific Council'?

The Council had recommended that Government close virtually every shop. But it was the same Council which simultaneously pirhouetted into supporting the first round of the Municipal Elections. With 100% hindsight, many will die because of that decision.

The Scientific Council started 11-strong, but lost one Professor Raoult - Trump's Favourite Frenchman. This flamboyant 'visionary' (Raoult, not Trump) has caused a virulent (sic) row about possibly combining chloroquine, with an antibiotic, to fight against COVID19.

Raoult opines loudly that Big Pharma diss him because chloroquine is out of patent protection. Others respond that Raoult's failure to use control groups make his claims non-verifiable; also, he's only using it on patients who would have recovered anyway. Raoult refers to his Hippocratic Oath; critics say he plays with lives.

Since it's easier to disagree about personalities than delve into medical uncertainties, everyone weighed in. Pharmacies were besieged by people demanding their Magic Pill. People sought treatment or medication and queued around Raoult's laboratory. It has doubtless contributed to the French Government's substantial loss of public support.

Battered on all sides, the French Government U-turned (in positively British Government style) permitting chloroquine for those near death. Ex-Health Minister Douste-Blazy (a former Doctor) urged Macron to allow chloroquine's use much earlier.

What does the public think of it so far?

Prime Minister Philippe, Minister of Health Véran, with senior medical and scientific leaders held a 2 hour press conference yesterday.

The Government tried to convince the nation of its transparency and their progress towards hospital staff getting vital supplies. Despite the experts, it was hard work. And especially difficult when addressing subjects everyone understands. Véran said a billion masks had been ordered. Yet now French factories can only produce 8 million/week while 40 million are required now. Orders for 250 million have been placed in China: they'll arrive some time. Result: endangered front-line workers.

These practical difficulties have contributed to Government losing further vital public support. Last week, pollster Ipsos found 46% dissatisfied with the Government's crisis management. It's now 56% dissatisfied.

Some show their dissatisfaction oddly. France's 2nd largest union, the once-Communist CGT, has called public sector workers out on strike for the month of April. The union demands protective equipment for all workers. The CGT (helpfully?) contrasts 'the lack of masks, antiseptic fluid and tests' and the 'unlimited supply of neo-military equipment used against demonstrators'. Not sure there'll be much public support for the strike, called 'inopportune' by Secretary of State Dussopt. Favourite hate figure, CGT leader Martinez, condemned Government for prioritising the economy over health, claiming many non-essential people who were working should be at home.

Maybe it was an attempt to assuage Martinez when Economy Minister, Le Maire, announced a full-frontal-attack on companies. Le Maire said any company receiving Government aid 'cannot and must not' pay dividends to its shareholders. Any company paying dividends will not benefit from Government guarantees for bank loans and will be forced to repay salary and social charges covered by the Government, plus interest. Good to hear Le Maire (a Minister who joined Macron from the political right), invoking 'solidarity' as grounds for this position. Martinez had called for a law banning dividend payments, but he'll just have Le Maire's threatening language. There's not going to be any law any time soon.

Lockdown-breakers

Apparently, our lockdown-observant neighbourhood is somewhat atypical.

Interior Minister Castaner announced on TV that 225,000 people had been fined for lockdown-non-compliance in 10 days. With 100,000 police officers checking papers, and 3.7 million people stopped, it's no surprise to find over one in twenty transgressors.

However, this high level of verification ('not to punish but to protect' said Castaner) could be jeopardised. In a sign of rising workplace tensions, police unions objected when asked by their Minister, Castaner, to give medical staff their 1.4 million masks.

Their reaction? Lacking in solidarity perhaps. Issuing a 'formal warning' to the Interior Ministry they said that if police didn't have protective equipment they would only perform urgent duties, ie NOT check lockdown paperwork.

Castaner will have further endeared himself to his police officers by his Castanerian response. While recognising problems in the system, he said police officers were 'not at risk'. Castaner reminded officers that senior medic Salomon said that 'permanently wearing a mask in the street is useless, and even unhelpful in terms of one's health.'

Despite this possible contradiction of his insouciant attitude, Castaner pointed out that 800,000 masks had been delivered 'over the last few days'. Just one day after Castaner's helpful intervention, the Post Office announced they'd given the police 300,000 high-grade masks. And in further good news, the Interior Ministry remembered it had ordered a million masks from China ... and they were being delivered this weekend. Seems a bit chaotic from the outside.

To avoid becoming a lockdown-evading statistic one must avoid straying beyond your home's 1km Inclusion Zone. [Anecdotally, a man encountered by a friend said he'd been fined for being 300m outside his Inclusion Zone. Perhaps, at the time of engagement with the police, that individual was actually heading away from his Inclusion Zone.]

Note For Potential Miscreants: From today, a 2nd lockdown offence in 15 days means a €200 fine. 4 offences in 30 days? Jackpot: 6 months prison and €3,750 fine. Caveat pedites et cursores*.

For certainty about the extent of your personal Inclusion Zone (especially useful for those wishing to avoid Google/Apple) glance at the National Geographical Institute's Geoportail website. A fun site, with historic map information. Remember. Prime Minister Philippe warned us on Thursday: those not obeying the lockdown legislation will be 'severely punished'.

Lockdown-evaders

A substantial number of the Good Folk from the Greater Paris region decided to sit out the war in their maisons secondaires many Kms away. Telephone operator Orange denounced the runaways to the Government (no individual names, no photos, no contacts, Orange clarified). All anonymized info. A global appreciation to help the authorities understand how many ignored the Government and unselfishly went to share their metropolitan virus around a bit.

Geolocalisation data shows 1.3 million upped and left Greater Paris (over the 13 March week, with lockdown starting on 17 March). 17% of France's population decided to deepen its rural roots. An even larger percentage of Parisians. So that's why there's all those Empty City Streets photos: Parisians have all buggered off. Which resulted, for example, in the Ile de Ré island (off Brittany) increasing its population by 30%.

08:55 Sunday. Orderly, moderately-physically-distanced queue awaiting 9am store opening. Shelves well stacked. Apart from fresh coriander crisis. Coriander must be having a bad war

Because they're worth it

Chanel (a company self-describing as 'socially responsible') published a press release today. Backdated to 16 March, Chanel will pay its 8,500 employees 100% of their salaries for eight weeks because it wants to avoid burdening the public purse. Chanel also says they've already given 50,000 masks to emergency services, and they're readying their teams of couturiers to manufacture masks and scrubs. Chanel for me in future.

Something completely different

I enjoyed this:

and also enjoyed today (i) interviews of historian Margaret Macmillan and economist Ngaire Woods [Professor of Global Economic Governance at Oxford who 'ranked' six governments (China, France, Italy, South Korea, UK, USA) for their pandemic reactivity: no prizes for guessing the correct order], followed by (ii) reflections on the joyful importance of the highlight of everyone's day: The Daily Walk.

Both (i) and (ii) are available on BBC Radio's World This Weekend (begin at 17:50).

Meanwhile, for anyone wanting to know more about comparative Government responses to COVID19, a tool has been created by Oxford's Blavatnik School of Government (Woods is Dean).

*(Let walkers and runners beware ... for anyone needing a translation).

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