COVID-19 Update: Another people’s revolt in France
Head of Macro Analysis
Summary: Confronted with the second wave of the virus with 4,000 new daily cases and 81 fatalities on Monday, the French government has decided last week to re-introduce further restrictions in the Southern of France and in the largest cities, including Paris and its suburbs. The first reactions to the new measures were generally negative among the population, with local executives protesting against the lack of coordination and business owners calling for civil disobedience. This new revolt against the central government, following the 2019 strike and the Yellow Vest movement that started in 2018, underlines the need of good communication and efficient coordination with local governments in dealing with the pandemic. Other European governments could also face localized anger if they fail to explain to their constituents in clear and simple language their COVID-19 management strategy.
France has a long history of popular revolts. After the Yellow Vest Movement and the 2019 strikes against the pension reform, the country is facing another people’s revolt against the central government regarding the way it is handling the crisis. Confronted with a second wave of the pandemic, the government has re-introduced last week further restrictions, that came into effect two days ago, in France’s largest cities and in the populated metropolitan region between Aix-en-Provence and Marseille (France’s second largest city) in order to contain the resurgence of the virus. In the main cities, bars and coffee shops must close at 10pm and gyms and other sport facilities are asked to close entirely for at least two weeks. The toughest restrictions are implemented in the metropolitan region between Aix-en-Provence and Marseille where restaurants and bars must close for at least one week and student parties are banned. This area is currently going through the worst resurgence of cases, with the second highest national incidence of coronavirus cases, at 281 per 100,000 people versus 231 per 100,000 people in Paris. According to the head of the intensive care unit at Marseille’s largest hospital: “there is around 300 intensive care beds in the department of the Bouches-du-Rhône (where is located Marseille) and around 100-115 in Marseille. And at the moment, there are only about fifteen beds left”. With the arrival of the seasonal flu in coming weeks, that will put more pressure on hospitals already facing a very complicated situation, further restrictions were needed to contain the spread of the pandemic. However, the first reactions to the new measures were widely negative among the population. Local executives in the Southern of France pointed out the lack of coordination and declared they will not enforce the new rules as they are considered disproportionate to the risk and would devastate the local economy. And, as a matter of fact, if you are walking in the streets of Marseille today, you will see that some bars and restaurants are still open despite the administrative closure. Since the lockdown has been lifted, the Southern of France has an history of disagreement with the central government over the way to deal with the virus, but we can draw lessons from this event on COVID-19 management and political communication. If governments fail to engage everyone in this process, local executives, business owners and citizens, and fail to communicate on the pandemic in clear and simple language, compliance to social distancing measures and other restrictions may decrease, eventually resulting in civil disobedience and further spread of the virus. It is an understatement to say the French government has not managed to communicate well on the virus and its consequences since the outbreak. At the start of the pandemic, when France was running out of mask stocks, the government argued against mask-wearing then it did a 180 degree turn on this issue when it finally managed to ramp up production of face masks. What is happening in France could perfectly happen in any other European country where the central authorities are not managing well decision-making over the virus. As it will take probably much longer than most expect to have a coronavirus vaccine (some experts are talking about a 12- to 18-month period if we accelerate clinical trial), it is of prime importance that authorities will adopt an open decision-making on new restrictions in order to obtain wide public acceptance and high observance of new rules. This is the only way for all of us to learn to live with the virus.