Party or pajamas? New Year’s celebrations in France continue despite record cases of Covid

Will the French be spending New Years Eve in slippers this year? It was the headline of the French daily Le Parisien, while the weekly Le Point summed up the dilemma in three words: “Evening or sofa? – an evening or an evening on the sofa? This is the question that arises in homes across France ahead of New Year’s Eve, as Covid-19 cases in the country reach unprecedented levels.

Some decide to go ahead with the celebrations despite the increase in cases. Ramez Sabah, who lives in the western town of Angers with his family, always brings New Years with a small group of friends, and this year will be no exception.

“We cannot continue to live like this and avoid others,” he told FRANCE 24. The couple are both fully vaccinated and consider the Omicron variant to be less harmful, so they are less worried about it. ‘catch the virus.

French public health officials have said Omicron causes fewer hospitalizations than the more dangerous Delta variant, but the government has stressed that with six or seven times the number of cases, even though the strain is less virulent, it will put still straining the health sector.

For Vincent Gomez and his partner Sophie Calzia, who live in Marseille, there was no question of canceling their New Year’s Eve plans. They will be heading to the Alps with a group of friends for a few days of skiing and a party on the 31st. Gomez told FRANCE 24 he wasn’t particularly worried about Covid-19: those attending the party who have been in contact with a case of Covid will be tested before they arrive, and he and Calzia are not only fully vaccinated but also caught Covid a few months ago.

“It didn’t even occur to us not to go. We were so keen to pack our bags and get away for a bit, ”he said, adding that the group of friends were planning to open the windows and try to respect social distancing at night itself. .

“While once the party is on, I think these precautions will likely be forgotten,” he said wryly.

A “tidal wave” of cases

On December 29, there was a record of 208,000 Covid-19 cases detected in France over 24 hours, breaking a previous record set the day before of 180,000 positive Covid-19 tests per day. Olivier Véran, the country’s Minister of Health, called it a “tidal wave”.

“This means that 24/7, day and night, every second, two French people test positive for the coronavirus,” he explained. “We’ve never experienced anything like it.”

Samuel (an assumed name to protect his identity) is a young doctor in the emergency department of Beaujon hospital in Clichy, just outside central Paris. He says when he started working in the department in November, they were only seeing one case of Covid-19 per day. Now, that figure has multiplied – and he points out that it is mostly unvaccinated people who occupy hospital beds with more severe forms of Covid.

“We are running out of beds,” he explained. “We lack personnel, we lack material. And meanwhile, the government is investing billions of euros in testing and vaccination. Pharmacies and doctors have endless testing, but there is no money for public hospitals.

The public health sector has asked the government for more money to fill staff shortages, due in part to people leaving the profession due to burnout or having to self-isolate when infected with it themselves. Covid-19.

Jérémy Chanchou is a nursing assistant in the emergency department of the Arles public hospital in the south of France.

“The staff are exhausted after two years of this continuing crisis. Especially since we do not even see the end. A lot of people are on sick leave. Eight of my colleagues are quitting their jobs, trying to move somewhere else or simply to retrain in something different because they are tired of working in these conditions, “he told FRANCE 24.

On December 8, eight regions in France activated the “white plan”, which allows health centers to prepare for an influx of cases by reserving beds for Covid-19 patients and postponing or canceling non-urgent procedures .

“All of the nurses’ year-end vacations have been canceled so that we have enough staff to do our jobs properly,” Chanchou said. “In 17 years of working in hospitals, I have never seen so many of my colleagues cry after being asked to make even more sacrifices.”

Chanchou believes that the canceled operations risk turning into “a silent health emergency.” The effects of this in a few months will be terrible.

Too much or not enough ?

The government put new drip measures in place over the past month, clearly reluctant to have to re-impose strict restrictions on year-end festivities. On December 17, Prime Minister Jean Castex said he was calling on citizens to act responsibly during New Year’s celebrations, limiting the number of guests to parties, testing before attending social events and respecting social distancing measures, but refrained from imposing a curfew (as was the case last year) or capacity limits for events.

On December 27, the government announced that working from home at least three days a week would become compulsory from January 3 whenever possible, and that eating and drinking would be prohibited in cinemas, public transport. community and gyms, as well as standing to eat or drink in bars or cafes. The government has been criticized for these recent measures, including the decision to make it compulsory to wear a mask outside in Paris and other parts of the Paris region.

Lindsey Tramuta, a Paris-based journalist and author of La Nouvelle Parisienne, said she believes the government is putting the economy first and is considering the expected candidacy of French President Emmanuel Macron for re-election in the year’s general election next.

“If they wanted to do something more constructive, the government would have delayed going back to school after the holidays and would have been stricter with restaurants, bars and other enclosed spaces. Wearing masks outside of Paris but then removing them inside a restaurant? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. The management of this crisis is now entirely political. The days of whatever the cost are over, ”she said, referring to a speech President Macron gave in March 2020, when he said the country would do“ whatever it takes ”to fight the pandemic.

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