You can take the Métro. But you can’t walk in the park! (Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris)

Post-Lockdown: Day 8

  • 28,108 deaths
  • 19,361 in hospital
  • 2,087 in intensive care

The total number of COVID-19 deaths in France moves inexorably upwards. Patients still in hospital and in intensive care go down so painfully slowly.

On this 8th Post-Lockdown Day it came to pass that some 150,000 young teenagers – the first 2 years of middle school – went ‘Back to school’ (sort of).

‘Zone Green’ middle schools re-opened today. Students/staff must wear masks, and students will only be at school half-time. So a half-step to semi-normality. [That guesstimate of 150K middle school students returning to school should be more reliable than the Education Minister’s forecast of those returning to primary school. So far, despite more than 90% of primary schools being open, barely 1 in 3 children attend.]

On France’s Atlantic coast, more ‘Zone Green semi-normality’ resulted from Mayors negotiating with their Préfets the re-opening of beaches: in Finistère (Brittany), 80 communes’ beaches are open. But it’s not like it was: swimming, water sports, fishing, running, and walking are all permitted. But NO picnicking, sun-bathing or gathering in groups of 10+.

ITMA or It’s That Mouth Again

Two days ago President Emmanuel Macron made an unannounced visit to Paris’s flagship hospital, Paris’s La Pitié-Salpetrière.

Presidential advisers will have heard the sound of not-so-distant disquiet becoming louder. Health workers protesting outside their hospitals. Talk of a mid-June ‘national day of protest’. So Government doubtless accelerated their plans.

Three days ago, a broad front of Governmental (pro-)activity was launched:

  • Macron’s ‘Covid bonus’ (promised 6 weeks ago) emerged: €1500 for nursing staff in the 40 worst-hit Départements treating Covid patients; €500 for every other hospital worker
  • Macron said Health Minister Véran had ‘authority’ to work on upgrading salaries and restructuring career development for medical and para-medical staff … to start ‘next week’
  • Macron announced a ‘massive plan’ reforming the entire hospital system: more decentralisation, bringing in doctors in general practice
  • Macron, above all, regretted ‘the mistaken strategy we adopted two years ago’ re-organising hospital and medical services. ‘Collectively, we produced an ill-thought out system … It is over-regulated and has been put under too much strain … We must now move fast to put everything aside which hinders the system functioning.’ Macron went further, taking personal responsibility for the the changes introduced being ‘totally insufficient for the then state of our hospitals. I was convinced we’d change things … It was a fine strategy but it all should have been effected ten years earlier.’

Doesn’t that sound like a smooth, well-honed Government machine? A(nother) Presidential apology [there aren’t too many from some who really have misstepped]; health service re-organisation; immediate money (and more to come) for health workers.

Even so, the lead-in to these announcements wasn’t so clever. Two days before, Government had trailed some less interesting ‘goodies’ for health workers. On reflection, Government might feel those earlier ideas should have been killed off when dreamt up.

Increasingly hapless Government spokesperson, Sibeth Ndiaye, told us what was in store. She said President Macron wanted 14 July to be ‘an additional opportunity to demonstrate France’s recognition of, and gratitude to, all involved in the struggle against Covid-19.’ Further, she said, the 1 January 2021 list of Légion d’honneur and the Ordre national du mérite awards would comprise ‘many people, from all walks of life, who had contributed as both professionals and volunteers to the fight against the virusin order to maintain essential services.’ So far, so banal.

The punchline was the further announcement.

An idea had emerged end-March. A Parliamentary Deputy from the right-wing Républicains thought the Government’s economic and fiscal measures insufficient. He wanted a law reviving the Epidemic Medal. Created during the 1884 cholera outbreak, this medal had (as it were) died out in the Sixties.

One tweet replying to this idea seemed apposite: ‘Masks and tests would be more useful.’

However, Government must have seen a neat way of syphoning more centre-right support. After all, who on the centre-right wouldn’t like a good medal after a war?

Anyway, back to last Friday at that Paris hospital.

President Macron was passing a couple of trade unionists. One of them called out. [The trade unionist didn’t say ‘Mr President’ but addressed him as ‘Mr Macron’. That will, as we know, have certainly vexed the President].

The trade unionist asked: ‘Do you really think we need a medal, that famous medal which has been announced?’

There were probably somewhere north of a million smart replies. But President Macron went for: ‘If you don’t want it, don’t take it.’ Instant rebuttal. The sort of thing which, publicly at least, he keeps telling us he regrets (if rarely repents).

That 32 second exchange has now been seen and re-seen throughout the land. Launching the hospitals programme? Forget it. Damaged by the so-smart, so tart Presidential reply. This is what most people have seen:

It’s a pity that few will have seen the subsequent 2 minute exchange President Macron has with other hospital workers. Breton daily Le Télegramme has the full sequence. It’s still worth looking at to decode the Presidential body language as he bridles at the initial shout. Another silly bungle.

Parks and Rec

Government spokesperson Ndiaye (in that same bemedalled press conference) had bad news for Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo.

Hidalgo wondered aloud why everyone’s allowed on the Paris Métro, but no-one’s allowed in a Paris park or public garden? The proposal put to Government by Hidalgo had been modest. 160 of the 400 open spaces would be open. They’d only be for people to walk in, and provided they wore a mask, just like the Métro. There’d be no sitting, no picnicking, no drinking, no children’s playground.

But no. Taking into account, said Ndiaye, ‘the prevalence of the virus in Paris and the Paris region’ opening Paris’s parks and gardens would not be ‘appropriate’.

A week ago, when post-lockdown started, police stepped in to ban people drinking by the Canal St Martin. The following day, the steps of Sacré-Coeur Cathedral and the banks of the Seine were similarly cleared.

So presumably those (mostly) young people could have gone to sit in small apartments where groups of 10 – or, in fact, more than 10 since that limitation only applies outdoors – can legitimately, if unhealthily, gather.

The President’s Incredibly Shrinking Party

The sound of the President’s Disappearing Deputies continues: a regular slamming of the door. Setting out with 314 Deputies in 2017, they now have 296 … another was excluded for voting against the Government’s lockdown exit strategy.

Still more Presidential Deputies will shortly disappear. That will leave the President’s République en Marche party (LREM) without its overall majority (289 seats) in the National Assembly. But they’ll retain a significant working majority: Bayrou’s centrists (Democratic Movement party) still support the Government.

Business daily, Les Echos, revealed a week ago that a new Parliamentary group is being formed, called Ecology, Democracy, Solidarity comprising Deputies from the almost-disappeared LREM ‘left’, plus ecologists and socialists. It’s rumoured that 58 Deputies will sign up for a launch of this non-Party. That would make the group the 3rd largest force in Parliament, after the President’s LREM and the Républicains right.

Mask Mess

Two of centre-left Le Monde‘s investigative journalists, Davet et Lhomme [they’re the ones who got President Hollande to unburden himself of much more than was politic (their resulting book A President Shouldn’t Say That did for a man already done)] wrote a series of articles on France’s handling of the pandemic.

Their article (in French) on the way France allowed its stock of masks to drop from 2.2 billion (2009) to below 100 million (2019) is a painful study of incompetence, bad management and awful Government decisions.

In 2017, France had 714 million masks [616M were from 2005/06 with no expiry date and 98M were acquired between 2014-16]. By March 2020 there were only 117M.

A quality control programme started in 2017 and (says left wing daily Libération) a Belgian company tested thousands of masks and determined they did not conform. Only 19M of the 616M were saved. 597M other masks were destroyed or burnt or scrapped. Davet and Lhomme believe much of that stock could have been used by the public.

The worst part of The Tale of the Disappeared Masks? This Government’s refusal to admit what had happened to hundreds of millions of masks. They will long pay for that doomed attempt to hide the truth.

All of which helps explain the (now) 63 formal complaints filed against the Prime Minister and other Ministers (Health, Justice, Labour, Interior) at the Court of Justice of the Republic which has jurisdiction over failures by Ministers to perform their duties, plus 47 actions against Health Authorities. In due course there will be a determination as to which complaints (there’ll be some) are actionable. [Judicial Note: Whilst in office, the President cannot be held criminally responsible for any actions or decisions.]

Every year, analysts Edelman conduct worldwide surveys on ‘trust’. In mid-April they asked people for their views on how their Government was responding to the pandemic.

Asked whether their Government was doing either ‘well’ or ‘very well’ in managing the availability of medical supplies and good treatment even in the poorest areas, half the Canadians and Germans and one-third of the British and Americans said ‘Yes’. But only one in five (22%) of the French saw their Government as doing ‘well’ or ‘very well’.

Of the 10 countries surveyed by Edelman (Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, S. Korea, U.K. and U.S; plus China for some issues) Japan was consistently ‘bottom’ of the list, with France and the USA next equal lowest in terms of trust. Page 45 of the survey provides a good summary.

Navel-gazing

One of the statistics I can glean from my blog-host is the country in which people (or machines) are looking at my blog.

Over the nearly three and a half years I’ve been writing, it’s only been viewed 24 times in all by someone/something in China. However, there’ve been 11 views in the last 8 days. Wonder what triggered that.

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