PARIS – As the two women sat in lounge chairs on Sunday evening, enjoying the last of the rays of sun near the Canal de l & # 39; Ourcq in Paris, they were jolted by speakers nearby to remind them that they were in one new zone where the mask was required.
"Do you have your mask?" Safiya Zenag, unmasked, asked her friend, who replied: "No, I didn't bring it with me. I hate to wear it."
With the recent recurrence of coronavirus cases, officials have made wearing masks compulsory in expanded areas of Paris and other cities across the country, asking the French not to lose their vigilance and jeopardize the hard-won achievements made during a period The virus received a two-month lockdown this spring.
The signs of a new wave of infections emerged over the summer as people resumed much of their pre-coronavirus life, traveling around France and socializing in cafes, restaurants and parks. Many, especially the boys, have visibly relaxed their vigilance and failed to follow the rules for wearing masks or social distancing.
For the past few days, France has seen around 3,000 new infections a day, roughly double the number at the beginning of the month, and authorities are investigating an increasing number of clusters.
According to a recent report, 30 percent of new infections occurred in young adults between the ages of 15 and 44. Because they are less likely to develop more serious forms of the disease, deaths and the number of ICU patients remain a fraction of what they were at the height of the pandemic. Nevertheless, the officers do not take any chances.
"The indicators are bad, the signals are worrying and the situation is deteriorating," Jérôme Salomon, director of the French Ministry of Health, told France Inter radio last week. "The fate of the epidemic is in our hands."
Mr Salomon warned that the virus would continue to circulate and that people would have to adjust their behavior. "We have to live with it," he said.
France suffered 30,400 deaths from the virus – one of the world's worst consequences – and saw an economically devastating lockdown from mid-March to mid-May. However, thanks to the lockdown, France managed to stop the spread of the virus and lift most of the restrictions early in the summer.
Philippe Juvin, head of the emergency department at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, said he was not surprised by the increase in cases.
"They lock people up for two months to prevent infections," he said. "As soon as people are allowed to go outside, it is not surprising that the infection starts again quickly."
The course of the pandemic in Europe has followed a similar trend, with Spain also reporting new local clusters. However, there are significant differences between countries. Last week, when France reported 20,000 new cases, Italy reported 7,000 and Britain 3,000, according to the New York Times.
Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the French University of Montpellier, said the situation today has "nothing to do with the imminent health risk" as the number of coronavirus patients and hospital deaths remains very low.
In France, the daily number of deaths was 15 for the past week. At the height of the epidemic in March and April, hundreds died every day in France, with the number sometimes reaching four digits.
In April, the intensive care units were busy at 140 percent. Only 7 percent were occupied about 10 days ago.
Mr Sofonea said that all European countries expect a recovery from the epidemic in the fall, when people who have been on vacation come back to work and social interaction resumes.
French authorities fear that the rising number of infections among young people, many of whom are asymptomatic, could contribute to the spread of the virus to older, more vulnerable people.
"Young people felt a little more invincible," said Olivier George, a 36-year-old baker. "That probably made them the hardest hit group."
All over the continent, young people flock to illegal parties organized in outdoor areas regardless of the risk of infection.
While the number of new cases has increased steadily in France, it is difficult to compare with earlier stages of the epidemic.
The number of tests being done across France has increased to around 600,000 a week – or about six times the number done during the height of the epidemic. At the time, France was suffering from a severe shortage of test kits, making it impossible for many suspected of having Covid-19 to be tested.
Raphaëlle Escande, 23, a business school student, said she had symptoms of the disease in March, including loss of smell, sore throat and fever. "It took three weeks," she said. "I stayed home because you couldn't be tested."
The coronavirus outbreak>
frequently asked Questions
Updated August 17, 2020
Why does it help to stand three feet away from others?
- The coronavirus spreads mainly through droplets from your mouth and nose, especially when you cough or sneeze. The C.D.C., one of the organizations using this measure, bases its six-foot recommendation on the idea that most of the large droplets that people make when they cough or sneeze fall within six feet of the ground. But six feet has never been a magical number that guarantees complete protection. For example, sneezing, according to a recent study, can trigger droplets that are far farther than two meters away. It's a rule of thumb: it is safest to stand six feet apart, especially when it's windy. But always wear a mask even if you think they are far enough apart.
I have antibodies. Am i immune now?
- As of now, this seems likely for at least a few months. There have been appalling reports of people apparently suffering from a second attack of Covid-19. However, experts say these patients may have a lengthy course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may only last in the body for two to three months, which may seem worrying, but that's perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it is highly unlikely to be possible in a short window of time after the initial infection or make people sick the second time.
I am a small business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus packages passed in March provide help for millions of American small businesses. Eligible are companies and non-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The assistance offered, administered by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. But a lot of people haven't seen any payouts yet. Even those who have received help are confused: the rules are draconian and some are stuck with money they cannot use. Many small business owners get less than expected or hear nothing at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What will the school look like in September?
- Many schools are unlikely to return to a normal schedule this fall, which will require online learning, makeshift childcare, and stunted work days to continue. California's two largest public school districts – Los Angeles and San Diego – announced on July 13 that classes will only be held remotely this fall, citing concerns that the rise in coronavirus infections in their areas is too great Poses risk to students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll around 825,000 students. They are the largest to date in the country, abandoning plans for a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution is not an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the largest in the country, New York City, are developing hybrid plans where some days are spent in classrooms and some days online. There is still no national guideline on this. Therefore, check regularly with your city school system about what is going on in your community.
The French Science Council, a government agency that advises President Emmanuel Macron on the coronavirus crisis, said in a report in late July: "The balance is fragile and we can always change course to a less controlled scenario."
The council warned that a second wave in autumn was "very possible" given the current trend.
The sharp rise in cases has led the government to designate Paris and the Marseille region as high risk areas and empower local authorities to take new measures to contain the spread of the disease.
In Paris, as in the rest of the country, the wearing of masks was limited to public transport and interior decoration. However, the requirement was extended to overcrowded outdoor areas about a week ago and extended to many more parts of the city over the weekend.
Prime Minister Jean Castex warned last week that the country had been "going the wrong way" in recent weeks and said he wanted to "extend the obligation to wear masks in public places as much as possible".
The government's reliance on face masks as the main weapon in the fight against the virus is a U-turn in their strategy. At the start of the epidemic, given the severe shortage of masks, the government said they were useless against the virus – contrary to its longstanding public health policy.
"I didn't find them coherent at all," said Laura Castel, 31, a high school teacher. "In the beginning it was:" Don't wear masks, they are not necessary. "But that's because, in my opinion, we just didn't have masks."
Now that France has more than adequate supplies of masks, Ms. Castel said the government "sang a new tune".
Perhaps because of the conflicting government messages on masks, people were slow to wear them in newly masked zones in Paris. On the sections of the Seine, only about half of the pedestrians were covered at the weekend.
The police will enforce the measures – which will take at least a month – with a fine of 135 euros or 159 US dollars.
In addition to masks and testing, France now has other tools that were not available at the beginning of the epidemic, including contact tracing teams and a smartphone application for contact tracing – although both have not yet been fully tested.
As the French learn to deal with the virus, health officials have adapted by quickly wiping out local outbreaks and tightening restrictions as needed. The aim is to prevent local clusters from spiraling out of control and forcing France into a national lockdown again.
Anthony Rasoloarimanana, 40, a travel agent walking under the elevated metro tracks of Boulevard de la Chapelle in north Paris, a new masked zone, said he was concerned that the latest stage of resurgence was similar to shortly before the lockdown in March.
"Were the sacrifices we made over several months in vain?" he said of the lockdown. "That would be horrible."
Théophile Larcher reported from Paris. Monika Pronczuk reported from Brussels.