Category: France How To
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For today’s episode I had planned a fun episode about favorite shopping spots in Paris, but I’ll save that for later because I know a lot of you have had to cancel your trips to France due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While this is sad and stressful (you’re now dealing with getting your money back and that’s never pleasant), the pandemic will go away and you’ll have a chance to visit later. The uncertainty of the situation is driving everyone crazy. So I’ll tell you where we stand right now knowing full well that things will change quickly.
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President Macron on the French Covid-19 Plan
Here’s what French President Macron told us in his address last night. He said this is the biggest health crisis France has seen in 100 years and that people with chronic illness are at higher risk: cancer patients, people with diabetes, obesity (yes obesity is a chronic disease!)
He pointed out how medical professionals are doing a wonderful job in France so far. But we’re at the start of this pandemic, the numbers will continue to grow at an exponential rate. We must remain optimistic and listen to doctors and scientists who study pandemics and suggest measures we know have a good chance of working.
At first this virus will sicken the most vulnerable populations and the elderly, requiring breathing assistance for many of them. We must continue to increase the number of hospital beds available for such patients while continuing to take care of those who have other urgent medical issues.
There may be a second wave of disease hitting younger and healthier people later. We don’t know if this is the type of virus that will die off in the summer or not or if getting infected today will protect people from catching it again later. We must let scientists look for the answers.
The most important thing to do now is to protect populations at risk and medical professionals to slow this thing down.
Action item #1: The President asked those over 70 years of age, anyone suffering from a chronic condition, and handicapped persons to stay home as much as possible. They can still go out for fresh air and do grocery shopping as needed, but limit exposure as much as possible.
This is where country folks like me have an advantage. I can take long walks without being in close proximity to anyone. We have small grocery stores that aren’t ever crowded. It’s going to be more challenging for city folks, but French cities have parks and open space, we still have mom and pop stores. This would be a good time to avoid the big box stores that attract crowds.
We have municipal elections coming up on March 15 and March 22, we vote in two rounds in France. Action item #2: The elections are still going on but there will be sanitary measures in place. Older voters will be given priority so they can be in and out fast. Mayors are in charge of holding all elections in France, they will be in charge of establishing sanitary measures that will work for their local situations.
In my village voting is easy and fast, it never takes me more than 5 minutes. I suspect they’ll ask people to use hand sanitizer when they arrive and when they leave, no shaking hands with candidates or the folks running the polling station. Probably no standing around chatting as some people like to do.
Then Macron went into the reasons why it’s so important to slow down the rate of spread. It boils down to this: we don’t want to overwhelm the hospitals. We need to have enough beds and respirators and trained personnel to run hospitals and never have to turn anybody who is seriously ill away. At the same time, we know there are going to be urgent medical needs not related to Covid-19 and those need to be taken care of as well.
Which led him to action item #3 child-care centers, schools and universities will all close starting Monday and for an undetermined length of time. My daughter is in a computer science program in Toulouse and she mentioned days ago that there were rumors. It’s official, no school for at least 2 weeks. The reason for this is that while kids are not showing signs when they catch the virus, they are still the ones who spread it around the most. They go everywhere and touch everything. Many children and young people can have Covid-19 and show no symptoms.
Regional authorities and all elected officials will be in charge of making child-care available to anyone who works in the health care industry. I’ll tell you about a radiology nurse who lives at the end of my street when I do my personal update, she’s a single mom with two kids. She may have parents who can take care of her kids for a while, but if not, elected officials are hustling right now to find a free child-care solution for her.
In France it’s typical for grandparents to take care of kids during school vacations so I think this will be the default response for most people. But not everyone has grand-parents nearby, so there’s going to be a need to child-care even if officially day care centers are closed.
Kids will have access to an on-line curriculum, I’m not sure how well that’s going to work, but that’s the plan. At my daughter’s university they’ll announce today what they’re going to do about continuing with the curriculum and exams and all that.
Action item #4 Macron asked all businesses to allow their employees to work remotely if they do the sort of work that can be done remotely. More and more businesses do that anyway, he’s asking that they double their efforts in that direction.
Action item #5: public transportation will continue because stopping that would block the country (we’ve seen the mess it creates where there are strikes!) and prevent medical workers and patients to get to where they need to go. But the President invited French people to limit their trips to what is absolutely necessary. I’ve heard reports that the Toulouse metro was eerily empty this morning at rush hour on a Friday. I think that French people will comply because a metro or a crowded bus is a scary place during a pandemic! So are airplanes and trains!
Action item #6: The government will announce more measures to limit gatherings. Last week they asked for organizers of indoor gatherings of over 1,000 people to cancel or reschedule. Just today this lowered to 100. The 100 threshold will include some theaters, movies, concerts, sports events. Restaurants and grocery stores stay open, there’s been no talk of closing them. No talk of closing hotels either. Hotels are emptying because people are choosing not to travel.
Action item #7: Hospitals must be ready to run at full capacity, and ICU capacity in particular must be ramped up. Medical professionals who retired recently may be asked to get back to work, medical students will also be called upon to perform some tasks. For instance, it may be a medical student doing phone triage and answer questions from a worried population. Can you imagine the number of calls the emergency medical number must be getting right now? People are worried, many of them for no good reason, but you need people to talk to them, inform and assess them.
Action item #8: All elective medical procedures will be delayed. Non-essential consultations will also be delayed. I’ll mention a medical test I did this week in my personal update in a few minutes, that could have been delayed because it was just a preventative consult.
They are doing this both to limit the number of trips people have to take and to free-up a doctor’s time so they can work in the hospital.
Action item #9: The French health care system will get all the funding it needs to buy the equipment, train workers to do tasks they haven’t done before, and pay salaries no matter how expensive it gets. The President said this will give us a stronger health system in the end.
Action item #10: Give researchers and laboratories the financial support they need to continue their research and come up with better and faster tests as well as treatments. They are also working on a vaccine but it won’t be ready for several months.
Action item #11: Stand with those who struggle financially. We’ve had this thing in France called “trève hivernale” for many decades. It means that you can’t evict someone during the winter months, even if they are not paying their bills. You can’t turn off their power or their gas or their water. This will be extended by two months this year. The compassion piece of this is important here. The government and all elected officials are asked to increase efforts to help the poor at this time of crisis.
Action item #12: The economy is going to suffer as a result of this pandemic. We’re already seeing it in tourism, the restaurant industry, the hotel industry, event organizers, the entertainment industry, the culture industry, etc. That’s a big chunk of the French economy. People are worried their income might drop significantly from this.
Macron is pledging to support businesses and employees as well as independent workers. Folks who work for companies that reduce their hours will be able to collect partial unemployment. Instead of companies laying off people, the government will take over paying salaries for a time. He said the Germans have a good system to do that and he’ll seek advice from them. But no details at this time.
Companies have taxes due in March, they will be able to postpone payments with no paperwork and no penalties. Wow, the French government getting rid of paperwork and complicated applications in exchange for tax relief is entirely new! But he said it’ll be automatic, so there’s hope.
Action item #13: The government is already working on ways to boost the economy once this crisis is over. France will continue to work with European partners and all world leaders because this is a global crisis and cooperation is vital.
Macron then called for individual discipline along with good order in the way national institutions run. He reminded us that viruses know no borders and that we must unite our efforts to support everyone in this time of crisis. He emphasized that nationalism is not the answer. Closing borders can be effective at specific times and Europeans will have to coordinate and only close borders when there’s a clear need. But generally speaking, cooperation works better than individualism in case of a big health crisis.
He admonished people to wash hands correctly, not shake hands or embrace, keep distances. He said it sounds silly and goes against our nature, but it really helps. We can all protect each other. Write to your elderly family members, call them, but don’t bring them the virus. Help your neighbors who work in health care if you can. He explained that he’s counting on us to be generous and cautious at the same time.
I’ll put a link in the show notes to his full speech (which lasted for 27 minutes) translated into English if you’d like to hear it.
So, that’s what’s going on in France.
I know some people will ask if France is on lockdown. No, it’s not. I can come and go as I please. There are fewer events for me to attend, I’m asked to exercise caution, but nothing like a lock-down. There are no extra police in the streets, if anything there will be less police around since there are fewer people about.
Macron is implementing a governmental response that makes sense IMO and asking for self-quarantine of sorts. Not a full quarantine, but self-imposed limitations. And I’m OK with that. I haven’t heard anyone take him to task on that.
I would urge you to do the same. Don’t travel for pleasure right now. Put it off. Not that the situation is scary in France, you probably have as much virus around where you are as we do here. But I think it’s wise to stay put if you can. France will be here when this pandemic has passed. Panic definitely doesn’t help and I think some people are doing crazy things out of panic.
People on the group ask if I think it’s going to be over by a certain date. I don’t know! They ask if it’s going to get really bad in France. I don’t know either! We’re trying to avoid getting to the really bad situation right now. I think we’re well equipped to deal with this in France, but only time can tell.
I’ll continue to bring you a little bit of France every week. Next Sunday it’ll be an episode with someone who moved to France and had a baby here, so you’ll get to hear about another aspect of French health care.
And on the Join Us in France Closed Group on Facebook I plan to keep it light if I can. French cultural things, recipes, French movies, books, I’ll keep answering questions but I hope you understand that I don’t have a crystal all. Share your best photos and trip memories. This will pass I am sure!
I only have one real-life friend who shared on Facebook that she thinks she and her husband have the virus, but it’s a mild case and they didn’t get tested. They’re staying at home and riding it out. So, one person out of thousands.
If I didn’t listen to the news and read Facebook I would have no idea this pandemic is around us. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be careful, but maybe not panic?
I hope you’ll stick around and I wish you all good health! Remember, the podcast bug is a good bug 😊
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Category: France How To