Covid-19 in France

Castex under fire, French opposition boycotts vote on Covid measures

French Prime Minister Jean Castex delivers a speech to present measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic at the National Assembly in Paris, France, April 1, 2021.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex delivers a speech to present measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic at the National Assembly in Paris, France, April 1, 2021. REUTERS - BENOIT TESSIER

After a day of angry debate, and a boycott of the non-binding votes by opposition politicians, the French government’s latest anti-Covid measures were approved by both in the National Assembly and the Senate.

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Prime Minister Jean Castex faced a barrage of criticisms from opposition MPs over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the new measures announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday, extending a semi-lockdown to the whole of the country.

The French prime minister’s speech came at the start of a parliamentary debate on the new restriction measures on Thursday. The lower house of parliament (National Assembly) voted to approve the new measures by 348-9, after opposition parties boycotted the vote en masse.

The measures then became law when the Senate waved them through 39-2 – with a huge boycott in the 348-seat upper chamber.

Jean-Luc Melenchon of the far left France Unbowed (LFI) party called the debate “a disgrace to the French Parliament”. “It is pointless, it will change nothing,” he declared. “Everything has already been decided and we are simply expected to applaud you.”

Socialist Valérie Rabault compared the government’s approach to decision-making on Covid with that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She spent seven hours with regional leaders to thrash out a consensus, Rabault noted, “while in France parliament was completely sidelined.”

A 'mirage'

“We are not here to validate your consecutive failures but to propose a clear efficient and transparent vaccination strategy, to give the French people a new horizon instead of yet another mirage,” said Damien Abad of Les Républicains. He said the government alone was entirely responsible for the failure of its anti-Covid policies.

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party decided against a boycott and instead voted against the government. The RN leader said Macron’s address to the nation on Wednesday raised more questions than it answered.

Visibly angry, Castex hit back at his criticisms that the government had waited too long to impose tougher anti-Covid restrictions. He reminded them that week after week he had heard them demand that restrictions be lifted.

They had called for shops, ski stations, universities, cultural venues to be re opened. Their interventions then and now suggested to him that the government had struck “ just the right balance.”

Lockdown fatigue

Meanwhile, amid signs of lockdown fatigue, the SNCF website sold tickets for 130,000 trips just after after Macron’s announcement, a last dash to other regions around France before the new measures kick in on Monday, effectively banning unnecessary travel.

Computer consultant Alex, who is 29, told Le Figaro newspaper he did not have a guilty conscience about a trip to Mexico planned for April. After spending two lockdowns already in Paris, he said he “just needed to move too much.”

Aix en Provence University student Charles intends to visit friends and go to the Alps. He told Le Figaro newspaper “Nobody will stop us moving about. This is not the USSR.”

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