Medical workers conflicted by France's partial lockdown

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Medical staff meets in a room of a patient affected by COVID-19 virus in the ICU unit at the Ambroise Pare clinic in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, Friday, March 19, 2021. French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced new coronavirus restrictions as the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units spikes. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS – When nurse Anaelle Aeschliman started her 12-hour night shift caring for unconscious patients with COVID-19, the French prime minister was announcing new restrictions to combat the resurgent coronavirus epidemic in Paris.

She was not impressed. The 26-year-old had been hoping for a full nationwide lockdown to slow the streams of severely ill patients filling ICUs like hers, in the west of Paris.

Instead, Prime Minister Jean Castex unveiled a mishmash of measures — including closures of nonessential shops — that are mostly limited to Paris and northern France and don't oblige people to spend most of the day indoors. Announced Thursday night, they were taking effect on Friday night, when Aeschliman was due to be back in the ICU, for another 12-hour shift.

"Locking down region by region isn’t enough. I think it’s a sanitary suicide,” she said Friday morning, as she went home for a shower and some sleep after working through the night.

“I admit I was a bit disappointed that we aren’t being locked down nationwide," she said. "When you look at the numbers, they’re unsustainable, and it is going to become ever-harder as the virus continues to circulate.”

In March 2020, when France first locked down with some of the toughest restrictions in Europe, the government exhorted people to stay home. This time, it is, in effect, urging them to go out and get some fresh air.

People in the Paris region and in the north of the country covered by the new rules can walk as long as they like in the day, within a 10-kilometer (six-mile) radius of their homes and carrying a paper authorizing the stroll. The new measures affect about 21 million people in the country of 67 million.

Schools will remain open. That was a big relief for Anissa Amira, a director of ICU care at the Ambroise Paré private hospital where Aeschliman also works. Amira said her 7-year-old daughter suffered from the school closures that made France's first lockdown particularly grueling for many children and families, and that “being able to go to school gives her a semblance of normality.”