Impressions of COVID-19 Socio-Political Dynamics in France

Herewith some impressions of the COVID-19 situation in Montpellier, France since arriving six days ago (where I am on sabbatical for the semester). As an American, I am using my own country as a reference point (which may or may not be meaningful for some readers).

1) As compared to the US, the COVID-19 vaccination rate is higher (77.8% fully vaccinated for age 12+ for France as a whole) and the ICU occupancy rate is lower (45%).

2) Unlike the US, cloth masks don’t seem to be a thing. Everyone wears surgical masks.

3) Like the US, a not insignificant proportion of mask wearers have their noses exposed.

4) Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are alive and well here, even among the well educated.

5) There are regular mass street protests against the vaccine passport (passe sanitaire) (see photo of a recent protest from outside my apartment window). A vaccine passport is needed to enter all public spaces such as restaurants and museums. Unlike the yellow vest movement, which was dominated by the working class, these protests seem to draw on a broad cross-section of society (I suspect there is an odd congruence here among the left and the right around civil liberties).

6. As in other parts of the world, a local colleague is running a research project for measuring COVID-19 in sewage waste water (apparently COVID-19 positive people excrete markers of the disease). Their group takes samples at the intake to the municipal sewage treatment plant, but they can also work their way upstream in the sewage system to isolate clusters in certain parts of town. This method is much better at detection (for public health responses) than testing alone. Their research shows a spike in COVID-19 in Montpellier starting in July with the tourist season (mostly French tourists), then a decline, and now another spike with returning students (Montpellier is a university town).

Not sure what to make of all this. Some aspects are better than the US, others are not. If anything, I have learned that the US is not the only country with complicated social and political dynamics surrounding COVID-19.

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