Even as France’s national vaccination campaign shifts into high gear, the government appears poised to impose a 3rd national lockdown amid fears that new variants of Covid could cause an explosion of cases.
The move comes just after government officials said French ski resorts could not reopen on February 1 as they had hoped. A potential lockdown and extended shutdown is a double blow to a struggling industry that has all but canceled the current season.
The good news in France, at the moment, is that average daily Covid cases have remained relatively stable over the past two weeks. Authorities feared another explosion after the two-week winter vacation at the end of December. Daily deaths remain around 75% below the peak in November.
But in recent weeks, the so-called British variant of Covid has been detected in France. There are indications that it is more contagious and potentially more deadly. Meanwhile, case rates have started to skyrocket in the UK and Germany. French officials appear inclined to get ahead of the problem by quarantining the nation before cases explode in a 3rd wave.
According to Le Journal du Dimanche, sources close to President Macron said he would announce the 3rd lockdown during a nationwide televised speech on Wednesday. The latest lockdown rules would allow schools to stay open.
In a recent interview with The Parisian, the French Minister of Health Olivier VÃ©ran hinted that a third confinement could be on the way. Earlier this month, the government imposed a nationwide 6 p.m. curfew. VÃ©ran said if the number of cases did not decrease and the new variants continued to spread, the government might not have many options other than a lockdown.
There are likely to be ânon-coreâ business closures again, but defining what falls into this category usually generates controversy. It also remains to be seen how limited travel restrictions will be and how many hours each day people can leave their homes.
Hard-hit ski resorts
This would add to a miserable season for ski resorts in France across the Pyrenees and the Alps. This is particularly cruel because the snowfall has been unusually heavy this year. In recent years, global warming has considerably shortened the ski season, especially in the Pyrenees.
Indeed, last year, local officials in the Pyrenees sparked controversy when they helicoptered snow from nearby peaks to ski slopes just to keep them open.
The â¬ 12 billion French ski industry was already reeling from the news that it would not be able to reopen the ski slopes in February. France has a 4 week school holiday period starting next month (each region has 2 weeks spread over a month) which is in part designed to give the winter tourism industry a boost. For many resorts, these February vacations represent 40 to 50% of their income.
Until now, at least some resorts were allowed to offer services such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. But a new containment would probably also stop these activities. Ski resort operators said they were likely to face a “white seasonâOr lost season, according to La DÃ©pÃªche.
These questions do not only concern ski resorts. Entire local economies in the mountains depend on the tourist flow in every season. Many local residents who work as farmers are also sometimes seasonal workers in ski resorts, for example. In other cases, artisans, hotels and other local businesses also depend on these skiers.
The government has offered a broad package of financial support, but that is unlikely to offset the massive losses from the economic ripples that typically flow from ski tourists.