Paris’ push for ‘zero COVID’ strategy pits city against French government – POLITICO

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A suggestion by the Socialist-led city of Paris to enforce a strict three-week lockdown in the capital caused a stir Friday, just hours after Prime Minister Jean Castex detailed the government’s softer approach.

Only the central government has the power to impose a lockdown, although it has vowed to consult with local authorities first. Talks between the government and local officials are expected this weekend, and measures could be put in place starting March 6.

Deputy Paris Mayor Emmanuel Grégoire said Thursday evening that the city of Paris would “put on the table” a strict lockdown in the hope of quickly bringing down the number of cases, blindsiding the French executive and Parisians alike.

Earlier Thursday, Castex announced consultations with local elected officials in areas most affected by the virus, which include Paris. Mainland France is currently under a 6 p.m. curfew, with additional weekend lockdown measures in local areas where the number of cases is alarmingly high.

This approach is “the worst,” according to Grégoire. “They are half measures with bad results,” he said on Franceinfo, “we can’t force ourselves to live in a semi-prison.”

Instead, “wouldn’t it be better to ask the question of a [strict lockdown] short-term … and have the perspective of reopening everything in three weeks?” Grégoire added.

After a wave of criticism and heated debate on social media, government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Friday morning criticized the city’s suggestion and expressed doubts about its viability.

He said that the proposal would be “looked into.” But “there are few scientists who reckon that with a three-week-lockdown, you can beat the virus and reopen everything,” Attal added on France Inter.

A lockdown in the capital would also likely require aligning with the wider Paris region, led by conservatives, to be effective, as Grégoire himself acknowledged.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s office tried to calm things down on Thursday night, with an official telling Playbook Paris nothing concrete was on the table yet. “We’re only saying that we need to choose our strategy. Either zero COVID, or we live with [the virus].”

In a press conference Friday morning, Grégoire seemingly walked back his comments, saying the idea was only a “hypothesis we want to put on the table.”

A group of European academics has been pushing for this kind of radical strategy, dubbed “zero COVID.”

“Is [a three-week lockdown] enough, I don’t know,” Karine Lacombe, a high-profile epidemiologist and zero COVID backer, said on RTL Friday. “For a zero COVID strategy, it’s obvious that we would need to take this direction.”

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