The COVID-19 pandemic in France is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The virus was confirmed to have reached France on 24 January 2020, when the first COVID-19 case in both Europe and France was identified in Bordeaux. The first five confirmed cases were all individuals who had recently arrived from China. A Chinese tourist who was admitted to hospital in Paris on 28 January died on 14 February, making it the first COVID-19 death in France as well as the first COVID-19 death outside Asia. A key event in the spread of the disease across metropolitan France as well as its overseas territories was the annual assembly of the Christian Open Door Church between 17 and 24 February in Mulhouse which was attended by about 2,500 people, at least half of whom are believed to have contracted the virus. On 4 May, retroactive testing of samples in one French hospital showed that a patient was probably already infected with the virus on 27 December, almost a month before the first officially confirmed case.
On 12 March, President Emmanuel Macron announced on public television that all schools and all universities would close from Monday 16 March until further notice. The next day, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe banned gatherings of more than 100 people, not including public transport. The following day, the prime minister ordered the closure of all non-essential public places, including restaurants, cafés, cinemas and nightclubs, effective from that midnight. On 16 March, Macron announced mandatory home lockdown for 15 days starting at noon on 17 March. This was extended twice and ended on 11 May, after a progressive lifting of lockdown and as face masks were made available to all citizens. On 2 May, Health Minister Olivier Véran announced that the government would seek to extend the health emergency period until 24 July. Several mayors opposed the 11 May lifting of the lockdown, which had been announced by the president a few weeks earlier in a televised address to the nation, saying it was premature. Véran's bill was discussed in Senate on 4 May.
From August, there was an increase in the rate of infection and on 10 October, France set a record number of new infections in a 24-hour period in Europe with 26,896 recorded. The increase caused France to enter a second nationwide lockdown on 28 October. On 15 October, police raided the homes and offices of key government officials, including Véran and Philippe, in a criminal negligence probe opened by the Cour de Justice de la République. According to a team of French epidemiologists, under 5% of the total population of France, or around 2.8 million people, may have been infected with COVID-19. This was believed to have been nearly twice as high in the Île-de-France and Alsace regions.
A religious week in Mulhouse that took place from 17 to 24 February 2020 was involved in the rapid spread of the virus to eastern France and beyond. Linked cases developed from early March in Orléans, Besançon, Saint-Lô, Belfort, Dijon, Mâcon, Agen, Briançon, Paris, Corsica, and French Guiana.
The annual gathering of the Christian Open Door Church between 17 and 24 February in Mulhouse which was attended by about 2,500 people became a significant cluster in the spread of coronavirus in France. Alerted by a parishioner and by 18 family members who tested positive on 1 March, the pastor notified the health authorities. A man who lived alone in Nîmes – and who had driven back alone from Mulhouse and who otherwise had no close contacts – tested positive, and the flurry of reported cases locally on 2 March brought the existence of a Mulhouse cluster to light.
On 3 March, seven participants in the evangelical rally – including five members of a local family and a general practitioner from Bernwiller – had tested positive for the virus. Starting on the evening of 3 March, the local helpline of the Emergency medical services recorded an unprecedented flood of distress calls, from people who had attended the gathering. According to an investigative report by Radio France, at least half of the attendees had contracted the virus; in an interview on France Info, the pastor of the church admitted that 2000 attendees may have been infected. It is said that no specific health advice existed in light of the threat at the time. The source of the initial infection has not been determined; furthermore, as different attendees were welcomed each day, and due to the absence of any attendance register, epidemiological followup subsequent to the discovery of attendees who tested positive was rendered impossible. Even President Emmanuel Macron had spent several hours electioneering on 18 February in the Bourtzwiller district close to the church. It was only on 2 March when the health authorities woke up to data that there was an outbreak all over the country linked to the religious meeting, by which time secondary infections had spread out of control.
A Radio France investigation identified that one nurse who had attended the event was the origin of a subsequent cluster in Strasbourg at her workplace at the Strasbourg University Hospitals involving some 250 hospital colleagues. Five returnees from the Mulhouse rally were confirmed in French Guiana on 4 March. On 5 March, a retired couple from Lot-et-Garonne and another person from Deux-Sèvres who had attended the same Mulhouse gathering were declared positive for the disease. Five new cases from this cluster were registered in Corsica, and three in Normandy. On 6 March, with 81 cases that had been detected in the previous 24 hours in Mulhouse, the departmental prefect declared that the means were no longer sufficient to systematically screen all suspected cases; only the most serious patients were to be hospitalised. The department of Haut-Rhin, in which Mulhouse is situated, imposed strict limits on the gatherings; all schools were closed henceforth.
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