Geopolitics

Neverending Lockdowns: The Ultimate Victory Of The Virus

The French have been under a strict curfew for months. Now they're being ordered back into lockdown, but with little evidence that these Draconian measures even work.

Lockdown in Paris
Lockdown in Paris
Paul Cassia

-OpEd-

PARIS — Returning to Italy on March 8 following a visit to Iraq, Pope Francis expressed his joy at being able to travel abroad after so many "months in prison."

The statement echoes what so many nursing home residents in France also said during the nearly one year that they were barred, by ministerial decree, from leaving their respective facilities. And it says a lot about the unheard-of intensity of the restrictions on freedom applied worldwide, to varying degrees, since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Our country has been at the forefront of measures that have most restricted individual and collective freedoms in the name of preserving public health. And the results of these deprivations have been mixed, to say the least. As of March 10, the number of COVID-19 deaths per million inhabitants in France, 1,370, was higher than in Sweden (1,291) and even Brazil (1,263), where health strategies diametrically opposed to ours have been implemented.

Acceptance of these restrictions is based on a feeling of fear, if not panic.

The root cause of these coercive measures lies in the economic and entrepreneurial logic that has been applied to public services in general and to public hospitals in particular since 2002. The fact that the heavily populated Ile-de-France region and its 12.2 million inhabitants still have only 1,050 intensive care beds one year after the appearance of COVID-19 is a major political and strategic error, since the infringements of fundamental freedoms taken in the name of public health are partially indexed on the saturation of intensive care services.

This guilty wait-and-see attitude is now forcing the superimposition of local lockdowns alongside a national curfew of 12 hours per day, in force without interruption since Jan. 16.

Acceptance of these restrictions is based on a feeling of fear, if not panic, which annihilates all articulated reasoning and only aggravates the difficulties encountered. It is sustained at every moment by frightening epidemiological forecasts that are not necessarily verified in reality, contradictory announcements by national public authorities, and the daily national number of positive tests, which went from 5,327 on March 8, to 26,343 and March 14 and then 42,619 on March 27.

But the positivity rate, which is more objective because it measures the daily ratio between tests administered and their results, has remained perfectly stable since December 2020, at around 7%. This is despite the spread of certain more contagious variants.

Social distancing in Paris — Photo: Isengardt

The legal basis of restrictions is based on a law passed on March 23, 2020 that was developed in just five days. It instituted the state of health emergency by being inspired by the law of April 3, 1955 relating to the state of security emergency. But whereas the earlier law potentially concerned only a small number of people likely to commit an act of terrorism and created heavy but individualized obligations (for example, house arrest for 12 hours a day), the new one affects every person on French soil and weighs on our daily lives in both the public and private spheres.

Disregard for the law is punishable by a fine of 135 euros, and the public authorities have not hesitated to brandish this threat of penal sanction in an authoritarian, vexatious and indeed even infantilizing manner, as when the Prefecture of Police evacuated the quays of the Seine on the first two Saturdays of March this year, on the grounds — once again, unverified — that some of the walkers did not respect the required physical distancing.

This law authorizes the prime minister, Jean Castex, to adopt general administrative police measures of unprecedented rigor only if there is a "sanitary disaster endangering, by its nature and severity, the health of the population." One year after the beginning of the pandemic, the figures confirm that this initial condition was never fulfilled and, in any case, the health of a substantial part of the 67 million French people is not seriously endangered by the coronavirus.

And yet, few voices have questioned the relevance of the state of health emergency or its strict proportionality, which results from a comparison between its advantages in terms of the fight against the pandemic and its negative economic, social, educational, cultural, psychological and even health effects.

Many measures that are totally absurd when considered in isolation — such as the nationwide closure of ski lifts, theaters or universities — have only been justified on a case-by-case basis by a deteriorated health context, without ever taking into account their cumulative consequences, which have become increasingly considerable and even dramatic over time.

Few voices have questioned the relevance of the state of health emergency.

Medieval measures such as lockdown and curfew were introduced in haste in imitation of the Chinese precedent in the Wuhan region. They were first "exported" to Europe in Italy and Spain before France aligned itself at a time when it was decreed that sanitary masks were useless. In times of peace, they should be totally banned from our legal system, which did not even recognize them before March 2020 as they are so detrimental to the dignity of the human person because of the many deprivations or restrictions of daily freedoms that they convey, without any documented certainty as to their sanitary effectiveness.

With the pandemic, the whole world — and France in particular — have passed a stage even more important than the one that followed the American attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. COVID-19 may disappear one day, either naturally or through the effect of the vaccine, but the legal and societal traces it will leave will be lasting and universal. The virus has already won the war that the president unilaterally declared a year ago.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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