Several hundred health workers took to the streets of Paris on Thursday afternoon to protest against conditions in French hospitals, as the number of new coronavirus cases surges across the country.
Doctors, nurses and other health workers – their faces covered with medical masks – waved banners and flags as they marched from the city’s Invalides monument to the Health Ministry in the 7th arrondissement (district).
Demonstrations also took place in a number of other French cities, including Annecy, Besançon, Saint-Étienne and Rennes.
With infection rates rising and beds in intensive care units (ICU) rapidly filling up, health workers are demanding better salaries, improved working conditions and the hiring of more staff in order to respond to the outbreak.
“Hospitals and other public institutions have been crumbling under exponential activity since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, without the necessary human and physical resources,” the General Confederation of Labour for Health and Social Work (CGT Santé et Action Sociale) union said.
In the last week alone, the number of hospitalisations for coronavirus increased in France by 6,529, according to the latest figures from the government agency France Public Health (Santé Publique France) – with 1,750 new patients admitted to the country’s ICUs.
‘Our caregivers are exhausted’
Thursday’s demonstrations came a day after President Emmanuel Macron announced a number of new restrictions to contain the virus’s spread – including a 9pm to 6am curfew in Paris and eight other hotspots – while acknowledging the growing strain on the country’s health services.
“The virus is now everywhere in France… Our caregivers are exhausted, understandably so because they were on the frontline during the first wave, then had to reschedule all other care during the summer, and there’s this second wave,” Macron said in an interview on national television. “Consequently, we don’t have any beds in reserve, any hidden beds. Which is why we need to take the strictest measures to regain full control.”
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Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday that the government planned to accelerate its timeline to introduce the second half of a monthly €183 pay increase for health workers from March 2021 to “before the end of the year”.
He added that any staff who postponed plans to leave during next week’s All Saint’s holiday break would also receive a bonus of €110-€200 per day.
Yet for the hundreds of health workers who protested across the country on Thursday, the government’s efforts are not enough.
“The situation in hospitals is even worse than the first wave, emergency services are overloaded,” Lionel le Plagneul, a medical representative who took part in protests in the western city of Rennes, told AFP.
Overall, there is currently a total of 809,684 confirmed coronavirus cases in France, making it the country with the second highest infection rate in Europe, behind Spain.