To Avoid Lockdown, France Cracks Down On COVID-19 Rule Breakers

Health workers take nasal swabs from people for both Covid-19 antigen and RT-PCR tests at a drive-through testing site in Marseille on December 21, 2020. (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

The scene at the small Parisian cafe looks almost normal: smokers queueing for a pack of cigarettes, gamblers buying lottery tickets or picking up betting slips for the races.

That is, until the police walk in, reminding customers, and the owner, that nothing is the same in the Covid pandemic.

“There are too many people here, count them,” an officer orders his team.

It turns out that nine people are crowding the tiny space, too many according to government rules saying that shops and other outlets can admit only one customer for every eight square metres (86 square feet) of floor space.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 And Conflicts Compete For Attention At African Union Summit

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is trying to avoid another Covid lockdown, which would be France’s third, even as infection numbers remain high.

On Wednesday, the public health authority reported 26,362 new Covid cases for the previous 24 hours and 358 Covid deaths.

– ‘I don’t want to close’ –
Instead, the government hopes that measures already in force — including a nightly curfew from 6:00 pm and a ban on cafes and restaurants except for takeaway fare — will be enough to cut infection numbers.

To make sure they do, authorities are getting tougher on those who don’t comply.

“Please let us stay open, I don’t want to close, I want to work,” pleads the owner of the bar in the east of the capital when the officer tells him that he risks being closed down as well as fined.

To no avail: “I’m not the perfect, I don’t decide, I simply file my report,” the policeman responds.

Once such an incident is reported, sanctions can follow quickly, sometimes the same day, or the next morning.

“It’s a tough job. I’m always on my clients’ backs, always telling them to wear masks. I enforce the law, but customers don’t like it,” the owner says from behind the bar fitted with sheets of plastic for protection.

Volunteers distribute face masks and leaflets to commuters outside a metro station in Vincennes on the outskirts of the French capital Paris, on April 30, 2020, on the 45th day of a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 disease, caused by the novel coronavirus. Philippe LOPEZ / AFP.

 

But the officer is adamant: “You have to educate your clients. Here, you need to think of yourself as both a tobacconist and a policeman.”

The owner promises to post a large sign at the door saying “No more than three people at the same time.”

Over the past week, the French capital’s police have cracked down much more severely on establishments receiving customers that do not meet the health requirements.

“We’ve become much stricter. We don’t tolerate any violations,” said Romain Semedard, police chief for Paris’s 12th Arrondissement. “We used to hand out warnings. Now we close them down, usually for a week or two.”

At a kebab takeaway nearby, police caught a staff member with a face mask tucked under his nose instead of covering it, and fined him 135 euros ($162) on the spot.

A tobacconist failing to advertise the maximum number of clients allowed was fined the previous day.

– ‘A question of fairness’ –
And a corner grocer who was caught staying open beyond the 6:00 pm curfew received notice to shutter the shop.

“That may seem harsh, but it’s a question of fairness towards those who abide by the rules,” Semedard said.

Inside a small Italian restaurant, an elderly lady was sitting at a table and a regular was leaning on the bar when the police arrived.

“They’re waiting for their takeout order and the lady needed to sit, is that allowed?” the anxious restaurant owner inquired when a patrol arrived.

“So long as they don’t eat or drink in here, everything is in order,” an officer replied.

Further down the street, the patrol inspected the cellar of a restaurant for signs of any recent illegal gathering, but they found only stacks of tables and chairs stored away awaiting better days.

Elsewhere in Paris, police discovered 24 restaurants opening illegally last week alone, and shut them all down for two weeks.

Authorities have also been making good on a threat by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said that restaurants violating Covid rules would lose access to emergency government funding for a month at first, and indefinitely if they are caught again.

AFP

French Firm To Start Making Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine Next Month – Minister

This file photo taken on February 2, 2021, shows a vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at the first Covid-19 vaccination center in Belgium, in Brussels, amid the crisis linked with the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

A French lab will start producing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in March, while another will begin making the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech in April, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron pledged Tuesday that four sites on French soil would begin making coronavirus vaccines soon, as the government draws sharp criticism over an inoculation drive that has started off slowly.

French pride has also taken a hit after its pharma giant Sanofi said its COVID vaccine would not be ready until later this year.

The health crisis has prompted governments to push for more widespread production of vaccines already available, overriding the industry’s fierce resistance to sharing intellectual property secrets.

“Production at the first site will begin in March for the Moderna vaccine,” at a lab operated by Recipharm, Pannier-Runacher told RTL radio.

“We’ll then have a production site running in April for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,” she said.

“And in May, we should (also) be producing the CureVac vaccine, for which we are waiting for approval,” she said, referring to the German biotech firm that could start French production at a lab owned by Fareva.

A French Sanofi lab will start making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the second quarter, even as it pursues research on its own jab, as will the French firm Delpharm.

Separately, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be used in France as long as it meets “scientific norms” and European “standards.”

“If Sputnik is confirmed and approved by the European Medicines Agency and France’s top health authority, there will be no impediment to its distribution,” he told Europe 1 radio.

France is hoping to avoid a new national lockdown as the number of coronavirus cases rises, with authorities reporting Tuesday a further 404 deaths over the previous 24 hours, as well as a new increase in intensive care cases to 3,270 in total.

Macron Says France’s Laws On Child Sex Abuse Must Change

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
File Photo. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday the law had to change to better protect victims of child sexual abuse, after thousands shared their stories in response to a newly published book.

“Today shame is switching sides” from victims to perpetrators, Macron said in a video posted to Twitter, welcoming the fact that “people feel free to speak everywhere in France”.

The flood of testimony under the social media hashtag #Metooinceste followed the early January publication of a book, “La familia grande”, by Camille Kouchner.

In it she accused her step-father, prominent political commentator Olivier Duhamel, of having abused her twin brother.

Macron did not directly address that case.

But in a short video posted to Twitter, he promised those speaking out online: “We are here. We’re listening to you. We believe you. And you will never be alone again.”

READ ALSO: New Zealand Detects First Community COVID-19 Case In Two Months

And he added: “We have to adapt our laws to better protect child victims of incest and sexual violence.”

Promising to “punish criminals for their acts in the past and prevent them ever reoffending”, Macron said the law would be updated.

In 2018, France already pushed back the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors to 30 years.

But some people have argued such acts should never fall beyond the reach of the justice system.

“No-one can ignore these experiences any longer,” Macron said. “We have to hear and gather victims’ testimonies even years, decades afterwards.”

Macron Vows Support For Child Sexual Abuse Victims

In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal's President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP
In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal’s President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday that victims of childhood sexual abuse “will never be alone again” and promised legal changes after thousands came forward with their experiences in recent weeks.

“Today shame is switching sides” from victims to perpetrators, Macron said in a video posted to Twitter, welcoming the fact that “people feel free to speak everywhere in France”.

“We are here. We’re listening to you. We believe you. And you will never be alone again.”

Promising to “punish criminals for their acts in the past and prevent them ever reoffending”, Macron said the law would be updated.

In 2018, France already pushed back the statute of limitations for sexual crimes against minors to 30 years.

But some people have argued such acts should never fall beyond the reach of the justice system.

A flood of testimony under the social media hashtag #Metooinceste followed the early January publication of a book, “La familia grande”, by Camille Kouchner.

In it she accused her step-father, prominent political commentator Olivier Duhamel, of abusing her twin brother.

“No-one can ignore these experiences any longer,” Macron said. “We have to hear and gather victims’ testimonies even years, decades afterwards”.

France’s Macron Free From COVID-19 Symptoms

 In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal's President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP
In this file photo taken on August 26, 2020 French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a face mask, looks on as he waits for Senegal’s President to arrive for their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris. Ludovic Marin / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron is free of Covid-19 symptoms, his office said on Thursday, a week after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

The president, who was in self-isolation at an official residence near Paris from where he ran meetings remotely, no longer needs to remain in quarantine, the Elysee Palace added.

Macron “shows no symptoms a this stage”, the statement said, and “the isolation of the President can therefore end after seven days”.

Macron had remained in charge “of the main issues of current affairs of our country” during his self-isolation, and would continue to do so in the coming hours and days, it said.

READ ALSO: China Suspends Flights From UK Over New COVID-19 Variant

Macron, who had tested positive for the virus last Thursday showing symptoms of fatigue, coughing and muscle aches, promised daily updates on his health.

His office reported “signs of improvement” for the first time on Wednesday, having in previous statements described the 43-year old president’s condition as “stable”.

The French authorities are concerned that the Christmas holiday period could see a new spike in infections, after the country’s total Covid death toll rose to nearly 62,000 this week.

Authorities said late Wednesday that nearly 15,000 new cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours, and 278 new deaths.

A vaccination campaign is to start on Sunday, with health workers and older people among the first to get jabs, the government said.

The EU gave the green light for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Monday, paving the way for the first inoculations to start across 27 countries soon after Christmas.

The French HAS health authority on Thursday cleared the vaccine for use in France.

 

AFP

Trump Wishes Macron Quick Recovery From COVID-19

Macron, Trump In Show Of Unity After Row Over Europe's Defence
US President Donald Trump (2L) addresses French President’s wife Brigitte Macron (R) as he shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron (2R) next to US First Lady Melania Trump at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 10, 2018. ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump has spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron to wish him a quick recovery from the coronavirus, the White House said Friday.

In the conversation, which the White House said took place Thursday, Trump “wished President Macron a speedy recovery and quick return to his full duties,” spokesman Judd Deere said.

“President Trump also extended his best wishes for a Merry Christmas to President Macron, his family, and the People of France,” the statement said.

READ ALSO: US Vice President Pence Receives COVID-19 Vaccine

Earlier, Macron said in a video message that he was experiencing several Covid symptoms including “tiredness, headaches, dry cough,” and that his activity was “slowed down.”

Along with Macron, Trump is among a group of several world leaders to have been infected with the novel coronavirus. In his case, he required three days of hospitalization and supplemental oxygen to breathe at the start of October.

 

AFP

Macron ‘Very Shocked’ By Images Of Police Beating Black Music Producer

Photo Credit: BFMTV

 

French President Emmanuel Macron is “very shocked” by the images of a black music producer being beaten by police in Paris, a presidential official said on Friday, as pressure grows over the incident.

Macron Thursday held talks with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to call for tough punishments for those involved in the beating of Michel Zecler last weekend, a government source added.

More to follow . . 

Macron Criticizes Media Over Coverage Of Islamic Extremism

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US

Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron has called The New York Times media correspondent to criticize English-language coverage of France’s stance on Islamic extremism after recent attacks, arguing it amounts to “legitimizing” violence.

“When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us,” Macron told Ben Smith in comments published in the latter’s Sunday column.

“So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values… when I see them legitimizing this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.”

In his column about their exchange, Smith said the French president had argued “foreign media failed to understand ‘laicite,'” or secularism, a pillar of French policy and society.

Domestic support for a firm line on the need for immigrants to embrace French values is stronger than ever since the grisly beheading last month of teacher Samuel Paty, who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson on free speech.

While paying tribute to the slain man, Macron defended France’s strict brand of secularism and its long tradition of satire.

“We will not give up cartoons,” he vowed.

He reiterated his point in an interview with Le Grand Continent in which he stated that, despite his respect for different cultures, “I am not going to change our laws because they shock elsewhere.”

“The fight of our generation in Europe will be a combat for our freedoms,” Macron said, adding that he believed they were being “overturned”.

His views have been called into question not just in angry protests across Islamic countries — many of which have called for boycotts of French products — but also by English-language newspapers and even international political allies.

The Financial Times published a piece by a correspondent that was titled “Macron’s war on ‘Islamic separatism’ only divides France further.”

The paper later took down the column, citing factual errors.

Defending France’s stance in a letter to the FT in which he denied stigmatizing Muslims, Macron wrote: “France — we are attacked for this — is as secular for Muslims as for Christians, Jews, Buddhists and all believers

-AFP

‘Let’s Work Together’: France’s Macron Congratulates Biden

French President Emmanuel Macron chairs a video conference with foreign compagnies executives on November 6, 2020 at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris, as part of a "mini choose France" forum, designed to attract more foreign businesses. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron chairs a video conference with foreign compagnies executives on November 6, 2020 at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris, as part of a “mini choose France” forum, designed to attract more foreign businesses. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday congratulated US president-elect Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris on their election victory.

“We have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!” Macron tweeted, in French and English, after major US media networks announced Biden’s victory over incumbent Donald Trump.

Macron has never met Biden, who will in January become the 46th president of the United States.

 

France under Macron is keen for Europe to move away from its reliance on US military might, for defence in particular.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday reinforced recent statements from Paris that the nature of US-EU relations had permanently changed under Trump.

Europe needs to build a “new trans-atlantic relationship, which is a new partnership” irrespective of who wins, he said then.

“We cannot go back to the status quo ante, to a kind of good old days in the trans-atlantic relationship,” as Europe affirms its sovereignty in security, defence and strategic autonomy, Le Drian added.

Apart from the far right, the French political class generally hailed Biden’s victory at the polls, which saw him win more votes than any other US president in history.

Former French president Francois Hollande, who was in office when Trump came to power in 2016, welcomed the “good news for American democracy”.

Biden has promised to return the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement after Trump pulled out of it.

Hollande hailed the “happy news for the planet with the return of United States in the climate agreement”.

 

AFP

France Honours Slain Teacher As School Resumes

An activist of Hindu Sena, a rightwing Hindu group, offers a prayer for French history teacher Samuel Paty, who was killed by an extremist in Paris, during a demonstration to show their support for France in New Delhi on October 30, 2020.
Jewel SAMAD / AFP

 

France on Monday honoured the teacher beheaded in front of his school by a suspected Islamist radical in a murder that shocked the country, as millions of students returned to classes after the autumn break.

Schoolchildren across France were to observe a minute of silence at 11:00 am (1000 GMT) to remember Samuel Paty, who was killed in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, outside Paris, on October 16 just as the holiday began.

Paty had shown his class a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed for a lesson on freedom of expression, spurring an online campaign targeting him. His killing further set France on edge as President Emmanuel Macron spearheads a campaign against Islamist radicalism.

On Thursday morning, three people were knifed to death in a church in the southern city of Nice in another strike the government described as an act of “Islamist” terror.

“I know your emotion after the terrorist attacks, including one in front of a school against a teacher,” Macron said in a message to pupils on his Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook social media channels.

“Today, in class, you will pay homage to Samuel Paty. We will all think of him, you and your teachers,” he said, adding: “The plan of terrorism is to manufacture hatred.”

Prosecutors say Paty was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen man, Abdullakh Anzorov, who was killed by police.

Prime Minister Jean Castex was also due to travel to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine to pay his respects to Paty alongside Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

Schools in France reopen with the country at maximum terror alert and parents told not to linger at school gates after dropping off their children.

Macron has vowed to defend the right to freedom of speech and that France will never renounce caricatures, after the furore created in the Muslim word by the republication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in September by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The stabbing rampage in Nice is suspected to have been carried out by Brahim Issaoui, a 21-year-old who arrived in Europe from Tunisia in September. He remains in serious condition in hospital after police shot him.

Charlie Hebdo republished the cartoons to mark the start of the trial of suspected accomplices in the 2015 massacre of its staff by Islamist gunmen. The trial was Sunday delayed for at least a week after three defendants tested positive for coronavirus.

-AFP

France’s Macron Ready To Meet Belarus Opposition Leader

 

President Emmanuel Macron is ready to hold talks with Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who has requested he act as a mediator in her country’s crisis, a French government spokesman said on Monday.

“What’s happening in Belarus is a crisis of power, an authoritarian power that is unable to accept the logic of democracy,” Gabriel Attal said, adding that Macron would meet Tikhanovskaya “if she asks” during a visit to Lithuania, where she has fled.

Belarus has been in turmoil since protests broke out last month after Tikhanovskaya lost to President Alexander Lukashenko in a vote she denounced as rigged.

The opposition leader, whose blogger husband remains in a Belarus prison, also called for EU sanctions against businesses that support Lukashenko’s government.

“The protests are not going to stop,” Tikhanovskaya told AFP in an interview. “People will not accept the regime under which they have lived all these years.”

Ahead of Macron’s visit to Vilnius, he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper it was “clear that Lukashenko has to go”, adding that he had been impressed by the courage of the protesters.

“They know the risks they are taking by demonstrating every weekend, and yet, they are pushing forward with the movement to make democracy come alive in this country that has been deprived of it for so long,” he said.

AFP

Macron Opponents Claim Victory In France Senate Poll

File photo: French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a press conference in Beirut on August 6, 2020, two days after a massive explosion devastated the Lebanese capital.  Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP.

 

The right-wing opposition on Monday claimed victory in elections for France’s upper house, underlining the political struggles of the centrist ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron.

The Senate’s members are not directly elected by voters, but instead by tens of thousands of local councillors who are themselves elected by the people.

After Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party performed woefully in local elections earlier this year, it was never expected to make any significant impact in the Senate vote.

While the chamber has some authority, especially over constitutional issues, it lacks the power of the National Assembly lower house, which has been controlled by LREM since 2017.

Nevertheless, the leader of the right-wing Republicans Christian Jacob told France Inter radio: “We have renewed ourselves with this victory.”

The party claimed to have upped its Senate seats by 10 to 154 in the 348-seat chamber.

The election showed that the opposition is not complacent, said Bruno Retailleau, head of the Republicans in the Senate.

However, because of the volatile nature of political affiliation in the Senate, the full breakdown will probably only become clear on Thursday when it meets to elect its speaker.

The poll — held every three years for half the chamber’s seats — was not a disaster for the LREM, which was expected to hold on to its current 23 members.

Meanwhile, the Greens said they expected to return at least 10 senators and the Socialist Party was expected to lose some seats but maintain its status as the second biggest faction.

But the health of LREM, and in particular its failure to put down roots at the local level, is a growing headache for Macron as he prepares to seek re-election in 2022.

Roughly two dozen MPs defected from LREM to other groups earlier this year, robbing the party of its overall majority, although the make-up of the National Assembly means it can still pass legislation.

AFP