France and COVID-19: a centralized and bureaucratic crisis management vs reactive local institutions


  • Du Boys Céline
  • Eymeri-Douzans Jean-Michel
  • Alaux Christophe
  • Saboune Khaled


  • Impreparation
  • Concentration of powers
  • Drastic measures
  • Agile local government
  • Enduring shortage of masks and tests
  • Huge economic rescue plan

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The pandemic hit France in a tense socio-political context (“yellow vests” social movement, difficult reform of the pension system, followed by municipal elections), while the country was not well prepared to manage pandemic crises because of major budget cuts in the last decade. The crisis also reveals some weaknesses of French public hospitals, with structurally overworked emergency services. Crisis management is very vertical, with a concentration of powers at the Top Executive, which adopts drastic measures of general confinement. At territorial level, the crisis is managed by prefects and Regional Health Agencies (ARS). The confinement is successful in cutting the “pick” of contaminations and avoiding the collapse of hospitals’ emergencies. But a major undergoing issue has been the terrible shortage of masks and tests. It is worth noting the increasing involvement of quite agile local government authorities in the process of lockdown exit. It is also remarkable that the French Government has deployed a huge amount of hundreds of billions of euros in emergency subsidies and loans guarantees to prevent a crash of the economy.

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