Jonathan Miller

France’s catastrophe

France's catastrophe
Emmanuel Macron announces strict new lockdown measures last night (Getty images)
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President Macron’s first lockdown turns out to have been a failure. So, now there is to be a second lockdown. Macron's announcement last night of a new 'confinement' on 'the whole national territory' until 1 December 'at a minimum' is bitter medicine for the French, and for Macron himself. Three difficult weeks are forecast for the health system.

The recent imposition of obligatory mask wearing and evening curfews have evidently not worked to curb the health crisis. The number of French people carrying the coronavirus is now estimated to be one million, health minister Olivier Véran said this morning.

So, back to square one. We shall, until at least the end of November, be permitted to leave our homes only to go to work, to a medical appointment, to assist a loved one, for essential shopping or to take a brief walk. Exceptionally, florists will be allowed to open until Sunday, All Saints Day, when French families put chrysanthemums on the graves of their loved ones.

Bars and restaurants and shops selling non-essential goods will all close but schools will stay open. Macron expressed 'the hope of celebrating Christmas and the end of year holidays with the family'. This seems unlikely.

Panic or prudence? The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care here has increased by 127 in the past 24 hours, to 3,036. The number of deaths linked to Covid-19 has reached 35,785, up 244 in a day. Some 36,437 new confirmed positive 'cases' have been recorded since Tuesday. It’s difficult to know, however, how meaningful these data might be, since many of those testing positive seem to be asymptomatic, or possibly non-infectious, or could simply be testing positive as a consequence of excessively sensitive test protocols.

Three principle questions now present themselves. Will the French health care system cope? The crisis is national. There is no question this time of transporting critically-ill patients to intensive care beds elsewhere.

Second, can the battered economy survive these restrictions? Debt, deficit, unemployment are all at critical levels.

And finally, can president Macron, who entered this crisis styling himself as a resolute warrior at war with the virus, survive what has evidently been his failure to control the epidemic?

The president of Medef, the business lobby, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, says the latest restrictions could cost more than three million jobs and threaten the survival of tens of thousands enfeebled companies. 'We need these traders for social life' who also represent 'more than three million jobs' and 'they are extremely weakened companies which risk going bankrupt,' he said.

And now, just to add another toxic element to this milles feuilles of catastrophes, this morning there was yet another lethal suspected terrorist attack, this time in Nice where three were killed by a knifeman at the Basilica of Notre-Dame. This follows the wave of recent attacks, including the decapitation by an Islamist of a middle school teacher, that suggest the government’s security policy is no more successful than its control of Covid.

I have always been sure that thanks to the geometry of the French political system, it was probable that Macron would be re-elected in the second round of the presidential election in 2022. But his stock of political capital has never been lower. Overwhelmed by events, his economic reforms remain at best tentative. The economy is poised on the edge of meltdown. There is something resembling a civil war in the unsettled suburban estates. Confronted with simultaneous existential threats, many are no longer so certain that Macronism can survive.

Jonathan Miller tweets @lefoudubaron