COVID-19 without no doubt exposed some of France’s weaknesses. With its renowned healthcare system, it was believed that France will overcome the crisis without facing any criticism. However, the global pandemic tells a completely different story in this country.

COVID-19 reached France on 24th January 2020, however, it was recently announced that the first case took place in December, when it was discovered that a patient treated in hospital on 27th December for suspected pneumonia had the coronavirus. On 12th March, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that all schools and universities will close as of 16th March, in efforts to contain the virus. With the lockdown starting on 16th March, other health measures were taken, with gatherings of over 100 people banned and closure of public places, including restaurants and cinemas, also ordered. Mandatory home confinement for 15 days was announced.

Despite the measures adopted to contain the spread of the virus, France fell in the grip of criticism. It was believed that France should have acted much earlier than it had done. Life on some Parisian streets carried on as normal. Markets were packed with shoppers and it seemed like the COVID-19 had not yet found its way to France. The decision to tighten the lockdown and close open-air markets was not made until 24th March, two months after the first COVID-19 case was reported. Despite extending the state of emergency, declared initially on 22nd March until 24th July, criticism continued as France began deconfinement on 11th May. As of 11th May the new rules for work, travel, meeting friends, shopping, events, and exercise were set. People have their freedom of movement back and no longer have to present a certificate to go out on the street. This move was criticized by many mayors, describing it as “premature”. Moreover, the decision to reopen schools was not well received by the teacher’s union, with Francette Popineau of the primary school teacher’s union Snuipp-FSU saying that teachers “have the impression of being sacrificed on the altar of the economy”.

Until recently, France discouraged citizens from wearing masks. But now, it has made them mandatory for public transport and recommended at work. The country is grappling with a shortage of masks and some medical supplies. As Prime Minister Edouard Philippe remarked, there were “very strong tensions” over medicines needed in resuscitation and intensive care units. Vietnam donated over 500,000 face masks to some European countries, including France. Turkey also delivered medical equipment. A comparison has been made between different countries concerning the testing capacity. France has been identified as one of Europe’s worst performers, with only 150,000 tests performed a week. To be able to ease the lockdown measures by 11th May, France needs to perform around 500,000 tests a week. COVID-19 has also shed light on the already existing social inequalities in some French suburbs, with news emerging that some wealthy people had access to antibody testing, despite the strain in hospitals.

A series of measures were announced to support the country’s economy. A plan to mobilise EUR 345 billion to support the economy was announced. The government also declared it would set up EUR 45 billion fund to be used for cancelling or deferring social security contributions for companies, to prevent the bankruptcy of companies affected by any slowdown in their activity.

With France now crossing the threshold of 174,791 cases and the COVID-19 taking its toll on the economy, we can’t help but keep our eyes fixed on the government’s strategy towards not only fighting the virus but also getting the economy back on its feet.

Written by Amal Mazeh, May 2020.