Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

A look inside France, where new cases are surging and the vaccination campaign continues at a sluggish pace.

Jonathan WolfeAmelia Nierenberg


Credit…The New York Times

France is in a rough spot. New cases are surging, hospitalizations are nearing a five-month high and the vaccination campaign continues to move at a sluggish pace.

The country also recently entered another national lockdown — its third since the pandemic began — even as other wealthy nations like the United States, Britain and Israel are ramping up vaccinations and loosening restrictions. For insight into the current situation, I spoke to Constant Méheut, who covers France for The Times.

What’s the general mood during this lockdown?

I think there’s a sense that a year after the pandemic started, we’re basically in the same situation. And people are not really confident in this new set of measures. There was a recent poll showing that about 70 percent of respondents approved of the new measures, and at the same time 46 percent said that they planned to flout them. So people are saying this is necessary, and at the same time, I don’t really care about them. That’s kind of the state of mind in France right now.

What’s holding back France’s vaccine campaign?

Basically, the main issue is a logistical one. France is struggling to deliver vaccines as quickly as it would like. The country lacks vaccination centers and lacks some logistics needed to deliver vaccines to small hospitals and small retirement homes.

Also, France was really counting on AstraZeneca to ramp up their vaccination campaign. And as we know, use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was temporarily paused because of some concerns about the aftereffects. And on several occasions AstraZeneca delayed the delivery of the vaccine, so that has also hindered the vaccination campaign for the past two months.

How do people feel about the rollout?

They are mainly frustrated. But there’s also a sense that France has been downgraded compared to other countries, and especially compared to other Western countries. A lot of people are saying, “The U.K. has succeeded in a vaccination campaign, so has the U.S., why have we not?”

It’s also the only member of the U.N. Security Council that has not produced its own vaccine, and that is a bit of a humiliation. This is the land of Louis Pasteur. It’s home to Sanofi, which is one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world. So the fact that France has not succeeded in producing its own vaccine is a harsh blow to national pride.

How are people feeling about getting vaccinated?

Initially in late December, there was a staggering amount of people who were reluctant to be vaccinated — almost half of the population. But then as the vaccination campaign started, you could see an evolution in the polls and more and more people began to trust the vaccine. That is, until some European countries paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. And now we are seeing more and more reports in the local French press that people are actually not really willing to get AstraZeneca shots.

What do the next few months look like?

We have a lockdown until early May. The vaccination campaign is supposed to accelerate in the coming days because big vaccination centers are being set up and because France is supposed to receive more deliveries of doses from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The government has said on several occasions that they plan to vaccinate all adults by the end of the summer.

President Macron also said he was hoping that by mid-May, terraces of restaurants and bars could reopen, and some cultural venues could also be opened, which is important because these are a big part of French identity. But people are unsure about that and are not thinking, “We only have to wait one month and a half and then life goes back to normal.” Many people think that something else could happen that could derail the plan ahead.

As states loosened restrictions and vaccines rolled out, places to eat and drink led the return to economic vitality in the United States. But restaurant workers, who have to be around open, uncovered mouths, have struggled to get access to vaccines, while a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that after mask and other restrictions were lifted, on-premises restaurant dining led to increases in cases and death rates.

To inoculate their employees, some chefs and restaurant groups around the country have opened pop-up vaccination spots. In Chicago, Rick Bayless, a chef who runs a number of restaurants in the city, is working to fashion one of them into a vaccination clinic on Mondays, when it is closed. In Charleston, S.C., the restaurateur Michael Shemtov turned a food hall into a restaurant worker vaccination site with the help of a local clinic.

“Most people in our government have considered restaurants nonessential luxuries,” Bayless said. “I think that’s shortsighted. The human race is at its core social. Restaurants provide that very essential service. It can be done safely, but to minimize the risk for our staff, we should be prioritized for vaccination.”

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

  • Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called for a short and strict nationwide lockdown to bring down the number of new coronavirus infections, but not all governors are convinced it is necessary.

  • A 28-year-old man died in the Philippines after the police forced him to do 300 squats as punishment for violating lockdown rules.

  • Officials in Osaka, Japan, requested that the upcoming Olympic torch relay events be canceled and a medical emergency be declared as a surge in coronavirus cases strains the hospital system.

  • Inexperienced adventurers have flocked to U.S. national parks over the past year to escape lockdowns, overtaxing volunteer rescue teams.

  • During the pandemic, funerals and memorial services have been curtailed, so The Times is making a virtual memorial.

  • Your boredom may actually be your approach to feeling out of control. Here’s why.

I continue to plan a trip a few months down the road even though they have continuously been canceled over the past year. I’ve always been one to push away constant new clothes, yearly phone upgrades and all around spending that can go to a getaway. I miss those butterflies in the weeks leading up to a new trip. I miss the smell of new air, the feeling of an unknown passer-by, an exploration of a new temporary home. A trip away has now become a new meal and bottle of wine in the living room.

— Max Krumpholz, Philadelphia

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Jonathan Wolfe and Amelia Nierenberg