beware of hasty comparisons between restrictions in France and other countries

A woman walks near a closed Madrid bar, in the midst of the second wave of Covid-19, November 4, 2020.

Would the restrictions still be less draconian for the neighbor? Since the start of the second wave of Covid-19, many messages, from politicians as well as ordinary citizens, judge the French health response in the light of those of other countries. In the background, a speech most often anti-confinement or, at the very least, anti-restriction.

But comparing the situation between countries is a perilous exercise. The initial level of spread of the virus, the population density, the number of people per household, the customs in terms of greetings and social distancing, the confidence in political and scientific bodies, the reception capacity of the the hospital system or the constitutional regime in force are all variables that can explain both the progress (or decline) of the virus, the political responses and their results.

In fact, if there are many ways to legitimately criticize the French health strategy, these international comparisons skew the debate by omitting essential details, when they do not distort reality. Decryption of three main arguments.

Argentina: the ineffectiveness of the “largest confinement in the world”

To qualify

What is being said in France

On the CNews channel, the president of the Les Patriotes party, Florian Philippot, popularize the argument from the end of October: “It’s the largest confinement in the world: they’ve been in confinement for seven months and you look at their mortality curve, it’s constantly increasing. Every day there are more deaths than the day before, so this is not an example. “ The Argentine situation has since been regularly cited in an attempt to show that containment and control of the epidemic do not necessarily go hand in hand.

What is true

Some Argentines endured the longest confinement of any country: put in place on March 20, it remained in force until November 29. This did not prevent the epidemic from following an upward slope, with a peak only reached in early autumn and a very slow decline.

The health strategy of Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has drawn strong criticism. While the Argentine economy is bloodless, the country has been agitated for many months by protest movements against these restrictions.

What is incorrect

The generalized confinement of Argentina, as France experienced in spring and then in autumn, only lasted one month, from March 20 to April 26 inclusive, before adaptations on a case-by-case basis. , region by region. As of June 4, 18 of the country’s 24 provinces had thus left thesocial, preventive and compulsory isolation ”, the name of Argentina’s strategy.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Argentina eases containment without reaching peak of epidemic

Containment ” unending “ which is in question concerns, in fact, only one administrative region of the country, but not the least: that of the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires, the capital, epidemic focus.

The sanitary measures applied in the Buenos Aires region have, moreover, varied over time, with reductions (reopening of certain shops and exit permits in June, reopening of bars and restaurants in September) and tightening (return to a strict confinement at the beginning of July), depending on the evolution of the epidemic.

For further

The Argentine situation differs profoundly from that in France on several points:

  • In Latin America, the peak of the first wave of the epidemic did not occur in March and April as in Europe, but when temperatures are lowest in the southern hemisphere, that is say in July-August. It is, moreover, the continent most affected in terms of number of cases and deaths.
  • The hospital system’s reception capacities are much lower. While France has 16.3 intensive care beds per 100,000 inhabitants, Argentina is less than 3.3, according to the latest figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The intensive care units reached their peak of saturation at the end of September.
  • The Argentinean population is concentrated at 91.87% in cities – dense places where the virus proliferates -, against 80.44% in France. One in ten inhabitants lives in shanty towns, in precarious economic and hygienic conditions: poverty, overcrowding, limited access to drinking water. It was in one of the most important of them, Villa 31, in the heart of Buenos Aires, that the main source of contamination of the country appeared, with 1,000 cases as of May 19, and mainly with a population economically unable to self-confine that the virus has circulated. As of November 25, according to the newspaper’s count Clarin, Argentina had 1.39 million positive cases and 37,687 deaths, including 20,117 in the metropolitan area of ​​the capital alone.

Spain: bars and restaurants open in Madrid, “and everything is fine”


What is being said in France

Silvano Trotta, business leader and ufologist converted into an influencer with conspiratorial accents, writes in a Tweet of November 24, link to a supporting article in German: “What you won’t read in the media… Madrid: theaters, museums, restaurants, shops, etc. have been open since July… And all is well! “

What is true

The Spanish government made the choice to save the economy at all costs and did not impose generalized reconfinement. Contrary to what Madrid practiced, during the first wave, restaurants and bars were not administratively closed and were able to continue to serve throughout the fall, despite the epidemic resumption observed at the end of August. The theaters were also able to continue performances, with audiences, whatever their size. Despite these measures, Spain has experienced a decline in the number of cases since the end of October and an epidemiological situation comparable to France, with 10,863 new cases on November 29, against nearly double at the beginning of the month.

What is imprecise

To suggest that there are no restrictions in Spain is misleading: they do exist, but vary by region. To assert that all places of life have remained open in Madrid is likewise an exaggeration. Of course, unlike other regions of Spain, such as Catalonia or the Basque Country, bars and restaurants in Madrid have not endured administrative closure (with the exception of tablaos, flamenco bars). But they had to deal with a curfew (reception of the last customers until 10 p.m., knowing that the evenings in Spain start later than in France), and a health protocol reducing their reception capacity, as well as theaters (mask wear, 75% of maximum capacity and one seat gap). In addition, several districts of the capital have been the subject of localized containment measures, while the home assignment of positive cases is more strict and coercive than in France.

In this context, a part of the population is self-confine and many bars and restaurants have themselves kept the curtain lowered at the height of the second wave, whether for health or economic reasons. Daily life in Madrid is therefore not that of a return to normal – like this scandal in September in a Madrid theater accused by spectators of not respecting the measures of physical distance.

Finally, it is difficult from a public health point of view to assert that ” everything is fine “ : the second wave has already claimed more than 15,000 lives in Spain (against 28,000 during the first). With 942 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, the country has the 5e highest death rate in the world, only left behind by Belgium, San Marino, Peru and Andorra. By way of comparison, on November 26, France is at the 16e rank (755.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants). And if the peak of the second wave seems to have been reached at the end of October-beginning of November, its slow decline worries about the risks of rebound during the end-of-year celebrations.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also In Spain, Madrid and around 40 cities in the country are closed to limit the spread of Covid-19

Sweden: “restaurants and nightclubs open, zero deaths”


What is being said in France

Already considered the dream counter-model in the spring anti-confinement discourse, Sweden continues to appear on social networks as a haven of common sense, freedom and security. “The economic situation in Sweden, without containment or mask, is better than before the crisis in March. CQFD “, can we read on twitter. “Sweden without confinement, without a mask. With restaurants and nightclubs open. Yesterday again, zero deaths! “, continues to assert a viral Facebook post.
Why this is wrong

This claim, which was very popular in October, has been denied over the weeks as the health situation in Sweden has worsened.

First, concerning the deaths: if the second wave was lenient in October, with only a few deaths per day on average, it worsened in November: the daily count of the missing from Covid-19 was multiplied by ten – even if it remains much lower than that of France. Above all, the daily number of cases is only growing – with a peak at nearly 8,000 on November 17 – raising fears of saturation of hospitals.

Then, on the restrictions: taking note of the little result of its liberal strategy, the Swedish government made a turn towards more restrictive measures in November. From the 10th, bars and restaurants must close at 10:30 p.m., until at least February 28. Moreover, the official recommendations are very much followed by the population. Thus, in several regions, residents have complied with the suggestions of their elected officials: work at home, avoid public transport, gyms and shops, limit contact to the family sphere.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also “Don’t go to the gym, don’t organize a dinner party. Cancel everything ”: Sweden changes strategy to contain the Covid-19 epidemic

For further

Seen from France, the Swedish reaction to Covid-19 is often cited as an example of respect for civil liberties. But the two countries have very different political traditions and constitutional frameworks. France is a traditionally Jacobin state, offering important prerogatives to the President of the Republic. The Swedish constitution prohibits restricting freedom of movement in peacetime. This did not prevent the Swedes from restricting their movements on their own.


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