“We need consistency, clarity, a course”

12:00 am, November 21, 2020

This time, he will not promise the return of the “happy days”, as in April, when the deconfinement was announced. Emmanuel ­Macron, who will speak Tuesday at 8 p.m., will not even use this last word. What he will talk about is “a gradual alleviation of constraints”, according to the Élysée, and prospects. In the short term: loosening of measures on businesses, probably as early as next weekend, and places of worship.

In the medium term, the Head of State will discuss the economic aspect at length. And, in the longer term, scientific data (new tests, vaccines) allowing us to project a little further. “Nothing is worse than uncertainty and the impression of endless gloom, Macron told JDD. We need consistency, clarity, direction. Knowing together where we are going and how to get there. C It is difficult because the pandemic is inherently unpredictable and global. But it is the key to confidence, which itself is the key to success. “

This is the speech he is preparing to give to the French, integrating the monitoring of epidemic prospects and scientific advances, but also the experience feedback from the last few months. A position on the wire, built according to a method that has been gradually refined since the beginnings of the second wave, four months ago.

During deconfinement, “a feeling of liberation”

Happy Days”. In this August, they are back. On May 11, the French left their homes after fifty-five days of confinement. Outdoors. Health indicators are in good shape, life has resumed its rights. The executive, however, is watching. On August 11, all the ministers attended the Defense Council by videoconference, from the prefecture closest to their respective vacation spots.

“I want us to rise on the question of tests”, asks Macron, who anticipates “a problem in the deadlines for completion and delivery of results”. Well seen, but hardly followed. A few weeks later, the spectacle of the queues in front of the test centers will be another quack, after the episode of the masks in the spring.

If we hadn’t let people breathe this summer, it would have exploded

Jean Castex, the former “Monsieur Déconfinement” installed in Matignon at the beginning of July, and Olivier Véran, them, continue to patrol all the fire starts. Guyana. La Mayenne, where a cluster has been reconstituted. And, very quickly, Marseilles, where the figures rise dangerously. From August 12, Véran received a first alert. Fifteen days later, bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m. The party is not over, but the lanterns are already starting to go out. Shouldn’t it have been done earlier?

“If we hadn’t let people breathe this summer, it would have exploded,” said a relative of Macron. A minister confirms: “It was untenable from the point of view of public opinion. There was a feeling of liberation.” With hindsight, Castex himself conceded it privately, evoking a general looseness: “We messed up, collectively.”

Difficult to convince the French that the situation is serious

This September 11, the president of the scientific council, Jean-François Delfraissy, drops his little bomb: the government “will be forced to make a certain number of difficult decisions”, he warns. Furious about this foray into politics, Véran calls him straight away to ask for an explanation. “What I wanted to say is that it’s difficult to make decisions at the moment,” Delfraissy tangles. “But what decisions?”, Insists the minister. “Ah, that, we did not work on it”, answers the immunologist. The feeling that the government is delaying sets in. Jean Castex’s press conference the next day did not correct the situation. What remains: the duration of isolation reduced from fourteen to seven days … “The thing does not print”, concedes an adviser.

However, the situation is deteriorating. In Marseille, but also in Bordeaux, Nice, Toulouse, Saint-Étienne… “It went very quickly”, notes Véran, who defends himself: “I don’t think we haven’t done enough. I’m even sure. But I remember that some considered that it was not a wave, because there were no patients in the hospital… “The delay of fifteen days between contaminations and hospitalizations is an obstacle to the government argument. Difficult to convince the French that the situation is serious …

If we had put in place a curfew earlier …

In this month of September, Macron did mention in defense council the United Kingdom, which sanctioned fines of up to 10,000 euros for the organization of clandestine parties. But the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, did not succeed. On the other hand, on September 24, the government tightens the screw: bars and restaurants must close in Marseille. Immediate rebellion of those concerned, fueled by all elected officials, all tendencies combined. And first hitch, serious, to a fragile national union already close to cracking during the first confinement.

“We are partly responsible, sighs a minister. It would have been necessary to announce it in other metropolises, because there we replayed the match Paris-Marseille. This instrumentalisation made very difficult the application of the measures.” And sigh: “If we had put in place a curfew earlier …” With ifs, we would bottle the virus. However, as Castex often reminds us: “Our enemy is unpredictable …”

A scenario of 400,000 deaths

In fact, after a deceptive dish until mid-September, numbers have exploded across Europe as temperatures drop sharply. Fifteen days later, the epidemiological assessment confirms it. At the defense council of October 12, the Minister of Health evokes the need to “save time, at least four weeks”. And advocates a “generalized and early curfew”.

The next few days, like the next few months, will be difficult

As well as the need for a message to the French: “The next few days, like the next few months, will be difficult.” France is already exhausted. Jean Castex evokes with his visitors “a weariness of public opinion”. And, also, a form of “denial”. Between the laissez-faire, impossible, and the reconfinement, which the government has always refused to consider, it will therefore opt for a curfew, announced on October 15.

But the fire spreads. And defense councils follow one another, each time a little more alarmist. That of October 20, during which it is established that “a failure noted within two weeks would lead to accepting a heavy health toll”. That of October 26, which predicts that the second wave will be “more severe”, with potentially “several thousand deaths”. “Unprecedented serious health consequences”. And “a completely saturated health system, for the first time since the end of World War II”. Can the executive afford, while the most alarmist of simulations evokes 400,000 deaths, to wait for the effects of the curfew?

The “horrible” meeting at Matignon

Fifty-two thousand and thirteen cases. This is the number of infected counted on Sunday, October 25. “It’s getting very serious,” said a minister. Re-containment is just a matter of days. Olivier Véran: “Has a country found the right way to avoid an epidemic wave? No. No country has been able at this stage to prevent it without taking binding measures.”

Two days later, the Prime Minister brings together all the parties in Matignon. “Horrible” episode, according to a participant, of which Castex retains a moving memory. Selected pieces. Julien Bayou (EELV): “You did not anticipate. From there, I have nothing to say.” Olivier Faure (PS): “I don’t understand this meeting. I thought you were going to present the possibilities to us, and that we could say yes or no to each possibility.” Damien Abad (LR): “I am reserved on the reconfinement. I would prefer it territorialized.” Marine Le Pen: “A total reconfinement would be a tragedy!” Only the national secretary of the PCF, Fabien Roussel, shows understanding: “Life first: on that, we will follow you.”

Why invent unnecessary polemics? We consult, we consult, we analyze, we decide

This barrage of opponents convinces Emmanuel Macron: of sacred union, there will be no. An episode remained on his stomach: an amendment voted by the senators on October 13, prohibiting the closing of bars, sports halls and nightclubs … A month later, Macron believes that his opponents today have the less easy part . “Why invent useless polemics? We consult, we consult, we analyze, we decide, explains the Head of State to the JDD. Some prefer to maintain abstruse debates which only interest them rather than make concrete proposals? I prefer to move on. “

“It’s going to fart”, threaten the small bosses

The “turn of the screw” therefore falls on October 28: Macron must resolve to announce a reconfinement. This time around, with open schools, many people can go to work… and close businesses that are considered non-essential. This triggered an outcry from the federations and forced the government to close the corresponding shelves in mass distribution, for the sake of fairness. The sling of small bosses threatens. “I am very worried, people cannot take it any longer, confides a minister. It will blow up. When people have nothing more to lose, this is where it becomes dangerous.”

I understand the grumbling of the traders, but when I hear the caregivers …

The Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, confided it to one of his relatives: “The anguish is very deep. It is up to me to offer perspectives.” The confrontation, permanent since March, between health and economic necessities is more lively than ever. It now has the defense council as its theater, every week, in the Murat room of the Élysée. After an introduction devoted to the international and French situations, then a presentation of epidemic modeling scenarios (the worst, the median and the best), Olivier Véran emphasizes the “health” position. After which Bruno Le Maire presents his point of view, “always in defense of businesses”, reports a participant. “It is sometimes tense,” says the latter.

“I understand the grumbling of the traders, but when I hear the caregivers …”, Véran attacks. “I hear the imperatives of the Minister of Health, but there is real life,” retorts the second. It’s up to Macron to conclude, with his traditional formula: “Does anyone have something to say?” And to decide. A political equation with multiple parameters. “Everyone has a very strong position in their sector, reports an adviser to the president. Our problem is to manage to balance all these expressions.”

“There is no question of deconfining”, recalls Véran

Last Monday, the defense council noted “the increasingly significant fatigue and irritability” of the French. But ended on a more optimistic note, noting that “the epidemic kinetics are slowed down”. After the good news on the vaccine front, it was recommended to explain to the French how “to live better with the virus over time”. What Macron will do on Tuesday.

“There is no inevitability, he told the JDD. Crises can be, in the end, accelerators of progress. We must be at the rendezvous of history. And France has all the assets to being.” One step forward. But also, a look back. “Today, the level of circulation of the virus in the country is the same as at the time of the curfew, recalls Véran. There is no question of deconfining.” The balancing act, always.

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