Party or pajamas? The New Year celebrations in France continue despite record-breaking cases of Covid

Will the French spend New Year’s Eve in slippers this year? It was the headline of the French daily Le Parisien, while the weekly Le Point summed up the dilemma in three words: “Soirée ou canapé?” – a night out or a night on the couch? This is the question being asked in households all over France ahead of New Year’s Eve, as cases of Covid-19 in the country are rising to unsurpassed levels.

Some decide to continue celebrating despite the growing number of cases. Ramez Sabah, who lives in the western town of Angers with his family, always welcomes the new year with a small group of friends, and this year is no exception.

“We can not continue to live like this and avoid other people,” he told FRANCE 24. The couple are both fully vaccinated and see the Omicron variant as less harmful, so they are less worried about catching the virus.

The French public health authorities have said that Omicron causes fewer hospital admissions than the more dangerous variant Delta, but the government has emphasized that with six or seven times the number of cases, even if the strain is less virulent, it will still put the health sector under strain.

For Vincent Gomez and his partner Sophie Calzia, who live in Marseille, there was no question of canceling their New Year’s Eve plans. They go to the Alps with a group of friends for a few days of skiing and a party on the 31st. Gomez told Jowharthat he was not particularly worried about Covid-19: Those attending the party who have been in contact with a Covid case will be tested before they arrive, and he and Calzia are not only fully vaccinated but also captured Covid just a few months ago.

“It did not even occur to us not to go. We were just so anxious to pack our bags and get away for a while, ”he said, adding that the group of friends planned to open windows and try to stay at a social distance at night itself.

“Even once the party is underway, I think those precautions will probably be forgotten,” he said crookedly.

A “tidal wave” of falls

On December 29, a record 208,000 Covid-19 cases were detected in France in 24 hours, beating an earlier record set only the day before with 180,000 positive Covid-19 tests a day. Olivier Véran, the country’s health minister, described it as a “tidal wave”.

“This means that 24/7, day and night, every second, two French people test positive for coronavirus,” he explained. “We have never experienced anything like it.”

Samuel (an assumed name to protect his identity) is a young doctor in the emergency room at Beaujon Hospital in Clichy, just outside central Paris. He says that when he started working in the department in November, they only saw about one Covid-19 case a day. Now that number has multiplied – and he emphasizes that it is predominantly unvaccinated people who take up hospital beds with more severe forms of Covid.

“We’re running out of beds,” he explained. “We lack staff, we lack equipment. And all the time, the government is spending billions of euros on testing and vaccination. Pharmacies and doctors have endless tests, but there is no money for public hospitals. ”

The public health area has called on the government to get more money to close staff gaps, partly because people leave the profession due to burnout or have to be isolated when they themselves are infected with Covid-19.

Jérémy Chanchou is a nurse in the emergency department of the public hospital in Arles in the south of France.

“The staff is exhausted after two years of this ongoing crisis. Especially since we can not even see the end of it. Many are on sick leave. “Eight of my colleagues quit their jobs, try to move elsewhere or simply to retrain for something else because they are tired of working under these conditions,” he told FRANCE 24.

On December 8, eight regions across France activated “plan blanc” (white plane), which allows healthcare centers to prepare for an increase in cases by earmarking beds for Covid-19 patients and postponing or suspending non-emergency procedures.

“All the nurses’ holidays at the end of the year were canceled so that we had enough staff to be able to do our job correctly,” Chanchou said. “During 17 years of hospital work, I have never seen so many of my colleagues cry after being asked to make even more sacrifices.”

Chanchou believes that the canceled operations are likely to turn into “a silent health emergency. The effects of that in a few months will be terrible.”

Too much or not enough?

The government has dropped new measures over the past month, apparently reluctant to once again have to impose strict restrictions on festivities at the end of the year. On December 17, Prime Minister Jean Castex said he urged citizens to act responsibly during the New Year celebrations, by limiting the number of guests at parties, testing before attending social events and respecting social distance measures, but he stopped imposing a curfew (as was the case last year) or capacity constraints for events.

On 27 December, the government announced that it would be mandatory to work from home at least three days a week from 3 January whenever possible, and that eating and drinking in cinemas, public transport and gyms would be prohibited, as well as getting up to eat or drink in bars or cafes. The government has been criticized for these recent measures, in particular the decision to make it mandatory to wear a mask outdoors in Paris and other areas of the Paris region.

Lindsey Tramuta, a Paris-based journalist and author of The New Parisienne, said she believed the government was prioritizing the economy and was considering French President Emmanuel Macron’s expected candidacy for re-election in next year’s general election.

“If they wanted to do something more constructive, the government would have delayed the return to school after the holidays and been more strict with restaurants, bars and other enclosed spaces. Wear masks out in Paris but then take them off at a restaurant? It does not make much sense “The handling of this crisis is completely political now. The days of quoi qu’il en coûte are over,” she said, referring to a speech Macron gave in March 2020, when he said the country would do “anything” to fight the pandemic.

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