As pre-pandemic activities slowly return, I’m beginning to think about when I might travel again to France. However, the pace of life is busier than ever. Last week, we hosted a graduation party for our daughters. At the end of next month, they will be heading off to different colleges. Meanwhile, my son is planning to spend a semester in Budapest. If all goes well, I’ll get a chance to travel to the western U.S. before summer’s end. As a result, I expect that my blogging output will be erratic until some time in September.
This week, however, I found time to celebrate France’s national holiday and catch up on the country’s Coronavirus situation.
A Difficult Rollout
The dopamine-producing neurotransmitters of my brain have long been lobbying for an overseas journey but looking at the numbers, such a trip still feels a ways off. France, not surprisingly, is my preferred destination but they are significantly behind the United States when it comes to vaccinations. As of Monday, roughly 40% of French citizens were fully vaccinated, compared to 50% in the United States.
Part of the lag is due to the fact that French scientists failed to produce a viable vaccine. This created a significant outcry at the end of 2020 when it became clear that the French pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi, would not be able to deliver a vaccine in the foreseeable future. The French people would have to rely on other countries for their vaccinations.
Concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine caused the next delay of several weeks. Finally, the EU’s inexperience in dealing with pandemics resulted in an overly drawn-out vaccine procurement process. However, by the end of May, Europe was vaccinating 3 million people per day—more than in the United States.
Open in Time to Shut Down?
France has had a phased approach to resuming normal life. In mid-May, restaurant terraces re-opened. By the second week of June, people could dine indoors. Nighttime curfews were lifted at the end of last month and last Friday, nightclubs welcomed revelers to their dance floors.
At the beginning of this week, fewer than one thousand people were hospitalized for Covid in France. However, the number of new coronavirus cases doubled last week and the Delta variant, which is more contagious, has become the dominant strain. With only 40% of the population vaccinated, health officials began talking about a 4th period of confinement.
Stemming the Tide
With the French economy growing again, President Macron recognized the urgency of putting measures in place to slow the spread of the indefatigable virus. He took to the airwaves on Monday evening to explain his plan of action. During his 20-minute address, he announced that all medical workers and care providers must be vaccinated. Vaccination for the general public remains voluntary but Macron imposed some powerful incentives.
Starting on July 21, 2021, everyone over the age of 17 will need to have a “health pass” if they want to dine at a restaurant, board a train, or visit any type of leisure or cultural space. You can only obtain a health pass if you’ve been vaccinated or have proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test (within 48 hours).
By the end of the day on Tuesday, about 1.3 million people had scheduled their first vaccine appointment via the country’s free online booking site, Doctolib. Since mid-June, the average number of appointments per day has been less than 200,000, down from a previous high of around 400,000 appointments per day at the end of May.
Even in the homeland of Louis Pasteur, there is a sizable portion of the citizenry that remains skeptical about vaccines. In a poll conducted in May, 20% of French people over the age of 18 said they refuse to get vaccinated. Another 13% were undecided.
Unfortunately, France suffers from the same disinformation campaigns regarding vaccine safety as the United States. Many have origins in Russia and China, but nefarious actors have also emerged from allied nations.
Several French and German social media influencers reported being approached by an allegedly UK-based PR agency. The agency offered them large sums of money in exchange for spreading false claims about the safety of Pfizer’s vaccine—the most widely used shot in France.
Léo Grasset, a French scientific YouTuber with more than 1 million subscribers, was asked to spread the false claim that deaths from Pfizer’s vaccine are almost three times higher than those from AstraZeneca. Fortunately, Grasset immediately suspected fraud and shared his concerns online.
Happy Belated 14th of July
Only time will tell whether Macron’s new health pass rules will be enough to reach the 80% vaccination goal that promises a reasonable level of herd immunity.
Given that I won’t be traveling to France in the near future, I at least took some time on Wednesday to celebrate the 239th anniversary of revolutionaries storming the Bastille. Happily, this year’s Fête Nationale, known as Bastille Day in the United States, came much closer to resembling national holidays of the past.
In 2016, my husband Andy and I had the pleasure of attending the annual light and fireworks show that illuminates the Eiffel Tower each July 14th. In 2020, this exposition was canceled but this year it resumed with spectators wearing masks. Click on the image below to see Wednesday night’s spectacular show, reaffirming France’s resilience and the country’s talent for putting on un spectacle magnifique.
- Le Monde, Comment Sanofi s’est retrouvé distancé dans la course au vaccin contre le Covid-19
- Brookings, EU learns from mistakes on vaccines
- Sortiraparis, VACCINATION : 1,5 MILLION DE RENDEZ-VOUS PRIS DEPUIS LES ANNONCES D’EMMANUEL MACRON
- Le Monde, Covid-19 : les Français ont de plus en plus confiance en la vaccination
- La Chaine Info: Vaccin : la déstabilisation russe ?