Thursday, May 28, 2020

Day 73-Coronavirus-Post-Lockdown-Phase 1 France - the first few weeks after

Easing out of Lockdown - Opening of schools - living a new kind of life

I'm not sure if time is passing quickly or slowly these days.  We are eager to return to normal life but at the same time cautious and concerned about the spread of Coronavirus.  Since May 11 - we have had more freedom here in France but to be honest, returning to a "new" normal has taken some time. 

If you read my last post, we were eagerly awaiting for May 11 to see if the government would give the green light of lifting many of the restrictions.  And yes, - due to a very small percentage of the virus still circulating, our region of Nouvelle Aquitaine,  as with many other parts of France - the restrictions were lifted and new protocols were put in place.  Yes, life isn't exactly like it was before, but we do have more freedoms.

We can go out and about when needed without documentation & travel within 100km. Many stores and businesses reopened but with new sanitary measures put in place.  Stores reopened, most requiring masks when you enter.  Public transport - masks are also required.  Hair salons reopened - again - mask wearing is required of both the hair stylist and the client.  To walk outside, masks are not required, but social distancing is required.  Masks are required outside in areas that are more crowded - like our Pedestrian shopping street in Bordeaux - St. Catherine street.  Stores are asked to limit the number of people inside and to provide hand sanitizer at the door for people to use both coming in and going out.  It's definitely a new style of living and being more aware.  We can socialise and gather with friends, but for now it's limited to 10 people. Some parks are reopened but not playgrounds.  Beaches are reopened but in an active version - meaning one can swim, surf or run/walk along the beach but no sitting, picnicking or sunbathing.  (Trying to minimize crowds)  Restaurants, bars and cafes are not open yet, nor hotels.  It's definitely strange to go to Bordeaux but not be able to stop for a drink, or coffee.

Probably the most controversial change has been the re-opening of schools.  As I explained in my last post, they did make it optional for parents, but at the same time encouraged children to return with new health precautions put in place.  This opening was for regions of France where the virus was minimally circulating.  The elementary schools started progressively returning the week of May 11 and the 6th &7th graders at the middle schools started back the week of May 18.  They will make the decision about 8th & 9th graders and high schoolers in the beginning of June.

For schools to reopen, classes had to be limited to no more than 15, schools had to decide how the students were returning.  Many elementary schools chose to split the classes in half and each group returning 2 days/week - Mon/Tues or Thursday/Friday. (For elementary schools - there is no school on Wednesdays).  Masks were not required by elementary age students and each school could decide what worked best for their school.

For my daughter's middle school - they defined the new protocols based on 5 fundamental goals:
To maintain physical distance between all people.
To respect each other's personal space - min. 1.5 metres
To limit the flow and the crowding of students
To clean and disinfect the whole school.
To send information and communication to all families and school personnel.

The 2 entrances of the school will be divided to enter only and exit only.  
Students when arriving will go directly to the center court and find their groups (already marked out for appropriate social distancing).  

There will be hand sanitizer available in the halls & at the entrance for all.  It's recommended that students also bring their own and wearing of masks is required by all (students and staff)  in the hallways and in class.  Classes will be divided into half  (Group 1 & Group 2) -with a max of 15 students in each group.  Each group will attend school for a 1/2 day (morning or afternoon) and follow their normal school schedule.  When they are not physically in school, they will follow the distance learning curriculum.  The first week, Group 1 will do mornings and group 2 afternoons & the following week it will switch.  Each group/class will be assigned to one room and the teachers will come to this particular classroom.  The student's don't move until the end of their classes.  The groups would be escorted from the courtyard to their designated rooms and back again at the end of their classes.  They would then be dismissed by small groups to again limit the flow through the halls.  All school personnel helps to supervise the halls and flow of students for entering and exiting in addition to the courtyard.

Lunch is optional for the group that has morning class, but if they stay - the cafeteria has been arranged so students sit the appropriate distance apart.  Only cold lunches will be served.  

In addition to publishing all of these new protocols, the school, teachers, counselors and the director called all parents to review the new rules and also ask if our child was returning to school or not.

Even though how the school functions is very different and much more regimented than before - it ensures safety  and protection for students and staff.  As a parent, it's reassuring to see all that they have tried to do to help all of us begin to return to "normal" life.  

Obviously, for various reasons some parents chose to continue to keep their children home on the distant learning curriculum.  But for many others, they have sent their children back to school.  As students are restarting school essentially part time- the government has asked employers to continue to prioritize telecommuting for their employees where possible.   
My daughter returned along with 80% of her classmates.  Her half of the class is actually 11 students.  We are now in the middle of the second week - she did mornings last week and is on afternoons this week.  Her day varies from 2 hours of instruction to 4 hours maximum.  This will schedule will continue until the school year - for France - last day of school is Friday July 3.  We are beginning to return to living life...

It's been strange to slowly return to normal.  After 2 months of being confined to the house except for necessities - to have the freedom to go out was actually strange at first.  On day one - May 11 - it actually rained all day...Mother Nature's way of reminding us to take it slow.

We still need to think about bringing a mask out with us.  The town provided all citizens with washable masks and I have made some too.  With my youngest back at school, it means washing masks almost daily - new activity for post-lockdown life.  As far as work, for most life is slowly getting back to normal.  Companies are starting up again, stores are opening and soon hopefully restaurants and cafes will be opening soon.  Yes, there will be some businesses that couldn't handle the shutdown, other companies needs to lay off personnel.  France is slowly waking back up.

It's been nice to be able to go out.  Last week, I had a strong desire to put my feet into the ocean - so my youngest and I went off to Arcachon - my favorite little seaside town - located about an hour from us.  It was great to walk in the sand - breathe the sea air, and take in one of my favorite spots.  Luckily for us, ice cream shops are open - so what a treat.  It felt normal, it felt good and it felt like we are finally moving in the right direction - returning to living life.

We wait to begin Phase 2 next week.  The First minister - Edouard Philippe will speak this afternoon and announce when & where restaurants and bars will open, discuss 8th & 9th graders along with high schoolers, & parcs, gardens and pools.  Will they lift the 100km limit of travel?  So many questions.
In any case, France is waking up slowly and carefully.

Hope everyone is doing well.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Day 49 - Confinement in France - The easing up on the lockdown-plan...update

Bonjour tout le monde 

Here we are on day 49 of confinement or lockdown in France. If you're like our cat above - we are just tired of all of it.  But we continue with hope and with our ongoing human spirit.  There is a light forming at the end of the tunnel...we are beginning to see it...but we still have a ways to go. 

Last Tuesday afternoon - April 28 - the Premier Minister - Edouard Philippe spoke about the potential next stage for La France, if numbers continue to go down regarding the virus, new cases and hospitalizations alike.  This is a summary of his speech given to the National Assembly - (France's version of the US Congress).  
Watching the number of  severe cases decrease as we moved through April
Translation and resumé of Edouard Philippe's speech to National Assembly - April 28, 2020

Post confinement plans
The country cannot be forever confined. This plan's objective will be debated by the deputies and put to a vote.

(Here are the conditions regarding the virus)
- If the numbers don’t show a decline we will not deconfine on the 11th May or we will be under more strict terms than originally planned. The uncertainty is around the number of new daily covid-19 cases or the contamination chain for instance.  We must push the French people to be at the utmost discipline until the 11th May and to fight against any risk of laxity that we are feeling around us at this moment in time. (Simply put - we need to continue to adhere to the strict lockdown procedures.)

- After an initial phase of de-confinement on 11th May, a new stage will follow on the 2nd June for 3 weeks, with new measures that will all depend upon the level of this epidemic at that time.

- the deconfinement will be differentiated on 11th May between various regions: ‘green’ where it will be applied widely and ‘red’ where there will be more restrictions.  (They began reporting the status of each region by a map last Thursday April 30)

For this 3 different criterias will be studied up until and on the 7th May to determine within which regions:
1. the virus is still actively circulating (number of new cases being observed)
2. How hospitals regionally are coping in terms of capacity and pressure within intensive care units
3. In which region(s) the volume of local testing & detection kits are not quite ready

Regarding Transport
- wearing of masks will be compulsory on all public transport
- the number of people allowed on public transport will be reduced to respect social distancing (in carriages etc)
- interregional transport will be reduced to maximum level
- NO MORE need for an ‘attestation’ (signed honor statement) from the 11th May, unless for any travel further         than 100km from your home
- Ask that those over 65’s continue to limit their contact with people and the outside world

Events and Gatherings
- All large sporting/ cultural or any events with more than 5000 people will not go ahead until September earliest
- Cinemas/ Theatres/ Large museums and concert halls will continue to stay closed post 11th May for now
- Gatherings will be limited to 10 people from the 11th May on both public or private areas
- Beaches will stay closed until at least 1st June
- The professional sports season for 2019-2020 will not be able to resume
- no religious ceremonies before the 2nd June
- Funerals will continue to be limited to 20 people with cemeteries reopening as of 11th May

Schools and Crèche
- Progressive reopening of preschool and primary schools as of 11th May decided by region. 
  Parents may chose to not send children as long as distance learning is followed.
- Crèche will also reopen from 11th May with groups of max 10 children
- All workers within these establishments need to wear mandatory ‘grand publique’ masks
- Under 3’s not obliged to wear masks
- From 18th May and only in regions where the virus circulation is low (green) they may envisage opening
   collège (middle  schools) - starting with 6eme & 5eme (US equiv- 6th&7th grade)
- Wearing of masks will be mandatory in ‘collège’ secondary schools, these will be distributed to those who have     not been able to acquire their own
- A decision will be made at the end of May with regards to ‘lycée’s’ (high schools) along with 4ème & 3ème (8th     & 9th grade ) in the middle schools reopening starting with lycée professionnelles beginning of June

- Working from home must be continued where possible for at least the next 3 weeks (after 11th May)
- Flexible hours to be put in place where working from home is not possible
- Wearing of masks at work mandatory when physical distancing is difficult to have in place due to nature of work
- The partial unemployment’ offers by the govt to stay in place until 1st June

About masks
- It is recommended (as scientists and experts have suggested) to wear a mask whenever possible in many
- the PM promises there will be enough masks in France to face the needs on the 11th May
- They strongly advise companies to equipe their staff with the necessary safety protection required and for 
   members of the public to make their own masks using the various practical guides, online wherever possible.
- Nearly 100 million surgical masks received per week
- Collective regional support for the purchase of masks taking 50% charge of reusable/ washable masks
- Pharmacies and supermarkets are invited to sell masks (single use or reusable)
News on testing
- widely test people who have covid19 symptoms and those they are in contact with them.
- a ‘team’ has been put in place in each region to identify these people who may have been in contact with 
  someone presenting symptoms
- Their objective is to have done 700,000 virological tests per week starting 11th May
- Those tested positive will self isolate at home (which will mean everyone in their home too) for 14 days, or else 
  housed in accommodation put at disposition by the govt (requisitioned hotels for example)
- Health insurance to cover 100% of these tests

- Shops to reopen on 11th May except restaurants/ bars/ cafés. Masks recommended to be worn by personnel 
   and clients alike
- All outdoor food markets will reopen 11th May apart from some exceptions - & are too follow social distancing
- Commercial malls will not reopen if they are over 40,000 square metres in order to avoid the vast movement of 
   the population

END OF MAY they will evaluate the conditions and announce a new phase of de confinement. In particular a decision on how/ when to open up the possibility of restaurants, bars, cafés and summer holidays.

So we eagerly wait for May 11 - that light - it's not the end of the tunnel but it's the light that we can see.  France has consistently chosen to move in 3 week intervals -lockdown, extension of the lockdown...and now we wait for May 11...

None of these conditions are too much of a surprise.  Most businesses, stores and restaurants are all eager to re-open.  But there is also fear - fear of a second wave - fear that the virus will spread more as people are out and about.  The French government is constantly telling us that we are NOT returning to life as we knew it.  We are taking initial steps to ease some of the restrictions for those regions that are ready.  But we haven't had the green light yet....

As of today - France counts - 168,693 cases of Coronavirus with 24,895 deaths. For the past 10 days the number of  deaths and the number of patients in ICU has steadily been dropping.  Now in certain regions of France - they are still over bed capacity in their ICU's but in other regions - are well within normal limits.  It's a waiting game - the same as it is world wide.  In our region of Nouvelle Aquitaine - we were not hit as hard with the virus (fewer cases, hospitalizations and deaths) so we have more hope that come May 11 - we will be one of the regions to experience this first step - first phase of deconfinement.

My biggest concern is the kids returning to school.  I'm waiting to see what the town is proposing.  As my girls are older - I have a slightly different perspective than a parent with elementary age children.  At this point, my youngest (12.5 years old) would be starting first.  She will be required to where a mask.  She is also old enough to know how to keep her distance.  No hugs, no kisses on the cheeks with friends - no touching!  She needs to see her friends, she needs interaction - but she is also old enough to know the rules and follow them.  There will also be a lot of hand washing!
The schools are suppose to limit the classroom size to 15 kids.  But we are not sure how this will happen - half days? half weeks?  A weeks and B weeks?  I would chose to take me daughter to school or to have her ride her bike.  She would not be taking public transport at this point.  We just don't have all the information yet.

But I'm waiting to see what is proposed for our town and her school.  I know the teachers and the schools in general are having a hard time figuring this all out.  So it's another waiting game to see if returning to school is really going to happen.  I know for the High school students they have postponed the decision until June 1 - and for my oldest - she's not returning.  (Yes, a trip will need to be made to get her stuff out of her room...oh joy!!!).  

So it's still wait and see here in France - with a hope toward next Monday - the magic date of May 11!!!  We continue to live in our limited confined state at home.
Seafood delight!!  Reaping the benefits of living near the Ocean!
lots of  reading going on...

Paella - made by our wonderful neighbor!!

And really missing this!!  I miss my clients, my job and showing off this beautiful area on a daily basis.  This is what I was doing one year ago today!!!  A fun little trip to the Sauternes region with my clients from Viking Cruises!  So looking forward to seeing my clients again!!

Chateau Rayne Vigneau - Sauternes

Hope everyone is well & taking care of themselves.

A Bientot - See you again soon!

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