French Churches Reopen After Easing Of COVID-19 Restrictions

French bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard leaves after leading the first mass since the beginning of the lockdown due to Covid 19 pandemic, on May 23, 2020 in Saint-Jean cathedral in Lyon, as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus.  JEFF PACHOUD / AFP.

 

French churches were preparing to hold their first Sunday masses in more than two months after the government bowed to a ruling that they should be reopened — provided proper precautions were taken.

Nearly two weeks into the relaxation of its shutdown, the government finally allowed churches, mosques and synagogues to reopen.

Last Monday, the France’s Council of State, which instructs the government on legal issues, ordered it to lift its sweeping ban on all religious services, in place since the lockdown.

The ruling said that such a ban on freedom of worship caused “damage that is serious and manifestly illegal”, ordering the government to lift the ban within eight days.

But priests, pastors, rabbis and imams will still have to ensure that the correct safety measures are in force.

Worshippers will have to wear masks, there will have to be disinfectant gel on hand and the seating will need to be organised to ensure people keep a safe distance from each other.

READ ALSO: Pandemic Gives Dubai Chance To Put Tech To Test

“My cell phone is crackling with messages!” Father Pierre Amar, a priest in Versailles, told AFP.

At one church in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside Paris, some worshippers turned up at short notice Saturday morning, having heard that mass would be celebrated.

“We knew 30 minutes in advance, we ran to come,” said Eliane Nsom, who went with her three daughters. Around 40 people attended the service.

– Government caution –

France’s mosques nevertheless called on Muslims to stay at home to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. They said they would gradually resume services from June 3.

France’s Jewish community took a similarly cautious line. Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia stressed that believers should not “rush towards the reopening of the synagogues”.

The latest figures for those seriously ill from the virus fell Saturday, with 1,665 patients still in intensive care for the coronavirus: 36 fewer than 24 hours ago.

The death toll from the virus stands at 28,289.

But the government has had to fight a series of legal and battles to control the pace of the gradual loosening of France’s two-month lockdown.

It has refused Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s call to reopen the capital’s parks and gardens, over fears this could accelerate infections in the city, already hard-hit by the virus.

Heavily criticised for what critics say was their inadequate preparation in the run-up to the coronavirus crisis, the authorities have taken a caution line in handling the exit from the lockdown.

Many of its experts judge that it is too soon to say that the virus has been brought under control in France.

But some specialists, such as epidemiologist Laurent Toubiana believe that the coronavirus has already done its worst.

“A significant portion of the population may not be susceptible to coronavirus, because non-specific antibodies to the virus can stop it,” Toubiana told AFP.

The controversial microbiologist Didier Raoult has also said the dangers of a second wave of the virus have been exaggerated.

But a series of medical papers have called into question his insistence that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against the coronavirus, a cure most notably promoted by US President Donald Trump.

The latest study of nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients, published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, showed no benefit in treating them with anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

Such a treatment even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital, it said.

AFP

France In Recession As Virus-hit Economy Shrinks 5.8 Percent

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.

 

The French economy officially fell into recession after contracting 5.8 percent in the first quarter, the national statistics office said Thursday, underscoring the massive toll of the country’s nationwide shutdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Even though the business closures and stay-at-home orders were imposed only the final two weeks of the quarter, the drop-off in activity was a hammer blow that has put more than half of France’s private-sector employees out of work.

It was the worst quarterly performance since the Insee statistics agency began charting French gross domestic product in 1949, and follows a 0.1-percent decline in the last quarter of 2019 — meeting the definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of contraction.

Insee said the drop was due mainly to the halt of non-essential activities since mid-March, underscoring a 7.3-percent collapse in household spending on goods — a drop that reached 17.9 percent in March alone.

The government has already said it expects an eight-percent contraction for the French economy this year as it prepares to start lifting the lockdown on May 11.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Cases In Russia Surge Past 100,000

It has announced 110 billion euros ($120 billion) in financial aid and other relief for businesses, and President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that “no company would be abandoned to the risk of bankruptcy.”

But Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told lawmakers Wednesday that “we must be realistic about the fact that once the shock has been absorbed,” there is a risk of a “cascade of failures” and a “severe” impact on unemployment.

In addition to the aid package, the government is guaranteeing up to 300 billion euros in loans for affected businesses.

– Health vs growth –

Entire sectors of the French economy have effectively been shut down, the Labour Ministry says, with nine out of ten workers in hotels and restaurants, as well as in construction now unemployed.

Business groups have warned that even with the loans and financial relief such as delayed payment of payroll taxes and other charges, thousands of small and midsize companies could be facing bankruptcy this year.

The government announced this week that if encouraging declines in COVID-19 cases continue, many businesses will be allowed to open on May 11, and some children will progressively start returning to class.

But bars, restaurants and cinemas will remain closed until June at the earliest, and companies are being urged to keep their employees working from home, to avoid a second wave of coronavirus deaths.

“We must protect the French without immobilising France to the point that it collapses,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in announcing the measures this week.

The toll has also been heavy on France’s blue-chip companies, with top bank Societe General reporting Thursday a first-quarter loss of 326 million euros, its first quarterly loss since 2012.

The bank said it would cut costs by an additional 600 to 700 million euros this year to weather the crisis.

Tyre giant Michelin said late Wednesday that its sales slid 8.3 percent in the quarter to 5.3 billion euros, reflecting the worldwide slump in vehicle sales and construction activity.

AFP

Virus Syndrome Also Found In French Children, Minister Says

File photo/ AFP

 

France has more than a dozen cases of children with inflammation around the heart, the health minister said Wednesday, after Britain sounded an alarm about a new disease with possible links to novel coronavirus.

Olivier Veran said there was not enough evidence to confirm a link with the coronavirus sweeping the globe but France was taking the cases “very seriously”.

Britain’s state-run National Health Service issued the alert at the weekend about a small number of children presenting an unusual set of symptoms, including abdominal pain and inflammation that required admission to intensive care.

In London, health minister Matt Hancock on Tuesday spoke of “early signs that in rare cases, there is an impact of an auto-immune response in children that causes a significant disease.

“It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the COVID-19 virus.”

But he said that while some of the children who have it tested positive for the virus, others did not.

Cases have also been reported in Italy, Spain and Switzerland, Veran told Franceinfo news radio, adding he had received an alert from Paris concerning “about 15 children of all ages”.

The French minister listed the symptoms as fever, digestive problems and vascular inflammation which can lead to cardiac deficiency.

“To my knowledge, fortunately no child has died from these complications which are fairly rare illnesses that can come with inflammation of the heart,” Veran said.

Some of the cases “in France as in England, but not all, have turned out to carry the coronavirus”, causing “some concern and watchfulness”.

“I am taking this very seriously. We have absolutely no medical explanation at this stage.

“Is it an inflammatory reaction which sets off a pre-existing condition in children who have this virus or is it another infectious disease? There are a lot of questions.

The minister urged international and French experts to gather as much data as possible to establish if a link can be made between the coronavirus and the new symptoms, “which until now had not been seen anywhere”.

France intends to re-open primary schools from May 11 and the minister noted that children had largely escaped COVID-19 infection and that serious cases involved those with underlying conditions.

AFP

First French Doctor Dies As Coronavirus Death Toll Rockets

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP.

 

 

The first French doctor battling the coronavirus has died as the death toll in the country spiralled to 674 Sunday.

With the outbreak spreading to eight regions — and 112 more dying in a single day — authorities admitted their count does not include those who died at home and in old people’s homes.

“We are looking at an epidemic that is widening and escalating,” the head of the health service Jerome Salomon said.

With hospital flooded with 7,240 victims, the military are having to transfer some from the worst-hit areas.

“The virus kills and it is continuing to kill,” Salomon added.

The 67-year-old emergency room medic who died worked at Compiegne hospital, north of Paris, the town’s mayor told AFP.

He was hailed as a hero by his family for coming back from holiday to treat the first major outbreak in the country.

Mayor Philippe Marini said that Madagascar-born Jean-Jacques Razafindranazy “came back to work voluntarily to treat people and knew he was taking a risk”.

– Calls for curfew –

His wife, a family doctor, is now also sick with the virus and has been quarantined at home.

Dr Razafindranazy’s death came as controversy raged over a shortage of protective gear for medical staff in some parts of France.

Despite Health Minister Olivier Veran saying more than 250 million masks had been ordered, some doctors and nurses have complained that they have had to do without.

READ ALSO: China’s COVID-19 Strategy: A Model For The World?

The French government is also under pressure from doctors’ unions to impose a total nationwide curfew, with some cities, including Nice and Perpignan, already banning people from going out.

With authorities expected to extend the lockdown beyond the end of March, doctors want it tightened to “at a minimum” stopping people going out to jog or exercise.

Parliament toughened fines for people who break the current confinement measures late Saturday. Repeat offenders now face six months in prison and a fine of 3,700 euros ($3,950).

– Shortage of masks –

Dr Razafindranazy died on Saturday in a hospital in the northern city of Lille, with his son paying an emotional tribute to him on Facebook.

“He was passionate about his work and chose not to retire. He has left a family behind him who will never forget him,” he added.

The family also warned that “this illness is extremely serious and must not be taken lightly”.

Marini said Dr Razafindranazy “would soon have been 68” and had treated some of the first cases in the Oise department, the first area in France to be badly hit by COVID-19.

He was infected in early March, the mayor added.

A quarter of the more than 7,200 people now in hospital with the virus are in intensive care.

Veran said many medical staff who contract the virus could in fact be getting infected outside of their work, while adding that protection for frontline staff was “absolutely indispensable”.

But doctors and nurses were losing patience, with the Frederic Adnet, the head of an emergency department at Seine-Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris, saying supplies of protective clothing were clearly under strain.

“We know we are exposed,” he told French television. “We know a number of us are going to contract it and there will be a price to pay… with protective gear cruelly lacking.”

AFP

French Basketballer Fined $1,400 For ‘Disrespecting’ Chinese Flag

Guerschon Yabusele #30 of the Boston Celtics grabs the rebound against the Philadelphia 76ers during Day 2 of the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League on July 6, 2019 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

A French former NBA player has been reprimanded and fined $1,400 by sports officials in China for not looking at the Chinese flag during the national anthem before a game.

Players with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) are supposed to stare at the national symbol during the “March of the Volunteers”, but television images showed Guerschon Yabusele, who plays for Nanjing Tongxi Monkey King, had his head down before Friday’s game.

Yabusele was given a “serious warning” and a 10,000-yuan fine for not looking at the flag as required, the CBA said in a statement on Saturday.

Yabusele, who played forward for the Boston Celtics for two seasons before joining the CBA team this year, has not commented on the incident.

China’s government has stepped up the promotion of patriotism under President Xi Jinping, with legislation approved in 2017 to punish anyone who disrespects the national anthem with up to three years in prison.

Opinions on Yabusele’s punishment were divided on Chinese social media.

“He’s happy to take money from China, but he doesn’t respect it,” one person wrote on the popular Weibo social media platform.

“This player must be expelled immediately and his club must be disqualified from the championship,” another said.

But many found the sanction to be harsh.

“It’s nonsense. First, he’s not Chinese. Moreover, he stood up and didn’t make any insulting gesture,” one person wrote.

“He has his head down. So what? In what era does the CBA live? It’s 50 years behind.”

Yabusele is not the first foreign athlete to break patriotic rules in China.

Last year, Shandong Luneng’s Brazilian midfielder Diego Tardelli was handed a one-game ban for rubbing his face during the anthem before a game.

AFP

Woman Found Dead In Landslide After Storm Batters France

French firemen search for a 71-year-old woman following a landslide after heavy rains in Nice, southern France, on November 3, 2019.
Yann COATSALIOU / AFP

 

A 71-year-old woman was found dead Monday after being engulfed by a landslide in the French city of Nice, as the south of the country counted the cost from a brutal storm.

Storm Amelie brought freak winds, downpours and monster waves to southern France over the weekend. The woman, 71, who died in her own back yard, was the only reported fatality.

The storm dropped trees on roads and railway tracks and ripped loose live electrical wires, leaving tens of thousands of people without power for hours on end, authorities said.

About 60 rescuers worked through the night in search of the woman, who was reported missing after a landslide buried her back garden as she was sweeping during a brief respite of heavy rains over Nice, said emergency services spokesman Eric Brocardi.

They moved more than 80 m3 of soil mixed with concrete blocks from a collapsed retaining wall before finding her body.

Sixteen residents of the same neighbourhood, where other landslides have since occurred, have been evacuated as a precaution.

Weather service Meteo France said winds as strong as 163 km/h (100 mph) were recorded in the southwest coastal departments of Gironde and Landes Sunday, and 121 km/h in Bordeaux.

Six people sustained minor injuries as Amelie pummelled the Atlantic coast.

Several trains were cancelled and several delayed for hours after about 50 trees came down on the lines, said rail operator SNCF.

French Govt Says New Brexit Delay ‘In Nobody’s Interest’

 

France believes an additional delay to Britain’s exit from the EU is “in nobody’s interest,” a government spokeswoman said Monday, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks support from MPs for a new divorce deal.

“It’s now up to the British parliament to say what it thinks, it’s no longer up to the European Union,” Sibeth Ndiaye told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

“So a vote needs to be taken on the heart of the matter, not just stalling tactics to gain time,” she said.

Ndiaye did not say if France would oppose any new delay for Brexit, which Johnson was forced by British lawmakers to seek on Saturday.

It was a humiliating move, coming just days after Johnson secured a new exit accord with EU negotiators.

The British “need to give a clear answer on what is an extremely simple alternative: Are they in favour of this accord, or against it,” Ndiaye said.

“Once we have a clear answer to a question which… has been the subject of more than two years of negotiations, we can determine what our attitude will be,” she said.

 

Lost ‘$170 Million Caravaggio’ Bought Before French Auction

Technicians work on the hanging of a painting believed by some experts to be Caravaggio’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes” for its public presentation at the Marc Labarbe auction house on June 15, 2019 in Toulouse before it goes under the hammer next June 27, five years after it was discovered in the attic of an old house in Toulouse.
ERIC CABANIS / AFP

 

A painting thought to be a “lost masterpiece” by Italian painter Caravaggio has been bought two days before it was due to go under the hammer in France.

“Judith and Holofernes”, which was found in attic of an old house in the French city of Toulouse, was snapped up by a foreign buyer, the auction house selling it said on Tuesday.

The art expert who authenticated the painting said it was worth between 100 and 150 million euros (up to $170 million), although several Italian specialists have doubts about the canvass.

French Intelligence Question Top Journalist Over Article

Ariane Chemin was questioned on May 29, 2019, by France’s General Directorate for Internal Security (Direction Generale de la Securite Interieure, DGSI) for her articles on the case of Alexander Benalla/ AFP

 

France’s domestic intelligence service on Wednesday questioned a journalist who broke the story of a scandal that shook President Emmanuel Macron, the latest in a growing number of reporters to be quizzed in a trend that has disturbed press freedom activists.

Ariane Chemin, who works for the Le Monde daily, said she was questioned by General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) for some 45 minutes in the presence of her lawyer after being summoned last week.

“I explained that I only carried out my job of a journalist,” she told AFP after the meeting.

She added she had insisted on her rights to keep sources secret while carrying out work of public interest based on a law dating back to 1881.

“They asked me many questions on the manner in which I checked my information, which was an indirect way of asking me about my sources,” she said.

Le Monde’s managing director Louis Dreyfus was also questioned by the DGSI on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: EU To Demand Clarifications From Italy Over Budge

Chemin has written a series of articles over the former presidential bodyguard Alexandre Benalla, who was fired last year after he was filmed roughing up a protester in one of the biggest scandals to shake Macron to date.

It was a July 18 article by Chemin that first reported that Benalla had beaten the May Day demonstrator while wearing a police helmet.

The summons stemmed in particular from articles about former air force officer Chokri Wakrim, the partner of Marie-Elodie Poitout, the ex-head of security at the prime minister’s office.

Poitout resigned her post after media revelations that she and Wakrim had welcomed Benalla to their home in July but insisted it had only been a social affair.

The Elysee has been accused of covering up the affair by failing to report Benalla to the authorities.

The secret service has already summoned seven reporters who published details over how French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were being used in Yemen’s civil war, sparking an outcry by press freedom activists.

The SNJ-CGT union has called for a demonstration outside the headquarters of the DGSI on Wednesday “in support of those journalists summoned by the French state in violation of the law on press freedom.”

The association of Le Monde reporters (SRM) said on their Twitter account that Chemin was simply “bringing to attention of citizens information that was in the public interest and thus was only doing her job.”

But Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told the French Senate on Wednesday that the summons should “in no way be seen as an attempt at intimidation or a threat”.

She said the summons for Chemin was issued as part of a preliminary enquiry carried out under the supervision of the Paris prosecutor following a complaint by a special forces member that his identity had been revealed by the paper.

Macron Honours Jean Vanier, Ally Of Mentally Disabled

Late Jean Vanier and French President Emmanuel Macron

 

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday lauded the life and work of Jean Vanier, who founded a pioneering network of communities for people with mental disabilities and lived at one of them in northern France until his death this week.

“This great spiritualist and humanist left us a more inclusive and better-shared world,” the presidency said in a statement following Vanier’s death on Tuesday.

He was 90 years old and had been fighting cancer for several weeks, according to L’Arche (The Ark), a network of some 150 residential communities operating in around three-dozen countries, with more than 10,000 members.

Vanier, the son of a Canadian diplomat, was an officer in the British and Canadian navies before abandoning the military to study theology in Paris, with the idea of becoming a priest.

But after being shocked by the conditions at a mental institution he visited, he gave up everything in 1964 to live with two mentally handicapped men in the village of Trosly-Breuil in northern France, which quickly attracted new residents.

The concept spread as some of his colleagues went on to establish more centres around the world.

“At the Ark, you start by wanting to help people, and you end up realising that it’s the people with a handicap who change you, who show you another picture of life and humanity,” Vanier told AFP in a 2014 interview.

The next year he was awarded the Templeton Prize, a $1.7 million honour for “entrepreneurs of the spirit”.

Vanier also created in 1971 the Faith and Light network, which now counts nearly 1,500 communities that bring together mentally disabled adolescents and adults along with their families.

In 2000 he founded Intercordia, which offers young people around the world the chance to participate in solidarity projects.

Pope Francis also mourned Vanier as “a man who understood the Christian command” to care for those rejected or marginalised by society.

Vatican Envoy Speaks To French Police On Sex Assault Charges

French President Emannuel Macron (L) shakes hands with Apostolic Nuncio to France Luigi Ventura during his New Year wishes to the diplomatic corps at the Elysee Palace in Paris. ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

The Vatican’s envoy to Paris has been heard by French police “at his request” over sex assault allegations, judicial sources said Thursday.

Nuncio Luigi Ventura spoke to police at the start of April, they said. Ventura is being investigated for allegedly molesting officials at the Paris mayor’s office.

The 74-year-old is accused of allegedly assaulting a man at the town hall in Paris on January 17 when Mayor Anne Hidalgo gave a New Year’s address to diplomats, religious leaders and civil society figures.

READ ALSO: Americans Await Bombshell Mueller Report

A similar complaint has been filed by a former Paris city employee for an incident that allegedly took place a year ago, according to city hall officials.

His immunity has not been lifted, according to the prosecutor’s office in Paris.

The Italian-born Ventura is also being investigated for alleged sexual assault in Canada where he served as the Vatican envoy from 2001 to 2009.

AFP

30 Jihadists ‘Killed Or Captured’ In Raids Near Burkina Faso – French Military

Burkina Faso on the map.

 

French and Malian troops killed or captured more than 30 extremists and dismantled a jihadist training camp during a major counter-terrorism operation near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso, the French military told AFP on Friday.

“Over 30 members of armed terrorist groups were neutralised,” the military said, a term meaning that they were killed or captured.

A French military doctor was also killed during the operation, the military previously reported.

The operation was launched in late March in Gourma, a crossroads region in Mali’s central belt that flanks the border with Burkina Faso.

The doctor was killed when his vehicle hit a mine, bringing to 24 the number of French defence force members killed in counter-terrorism operations in the region since 2013.

Some 4,500 French troops are deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad to help local forces try to flush out jihadist groups, six years after France helped chase al-Qaeda fundamentalists out of northern Mali.

The Gourma area is a haven for armed groups who hide in the forests along the border with Burkina Faso to the south, including a group suspected of carrying out several cross-border attacks.

Around 700 French troops and 150 Malian troops were deployed in the air and ground operation to try to destroy their bases.

On the other side of the border Burkina Faso had deployed troops “to prevent any attempt by the enemy to escape towards the south of the zone,” French military spokesman Patrik Steiger said.

The operation first targeted the Foulsare forest in the southwest of Gao province, where the troops found “a logistical base” containing rocket launchers and other weaponry, the military said.

No jihadists were killed in that offensive, the defence forces said.

The second phase of the operation, which caused the losses on the jihadists’ side, targeted several sites including a training camp in the Serma forest.

A pick-up truck, a dozen motorbikes and arms and ammunition, including large amounts of material used to make roadside bombs were seized, the military said.

AFP