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Cablegate: Beating the Heat: Gof On Alert

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Lucia A Keegan 07/27/2006 09:43:11 AM From DB/Inbox: Lucia A Keegan

Cable
Text:


UNCLAS PARIS 05051

SIPDIS
cxparis:
ACTION: SCI
INFO: POL AMBO SCIO LABO ENGO ECSO DCM AMB ECON ESCI
AGR UNESCO

DISSEMINATION: SCIX
CHARGE: PROG

APPROVED: EMIN:TJWHITE
DRAFTED: SCI:MHMASSING
CLEARED: SCI:KKATZER

VZCZCFRI517
RR RUEHC RUCNMEM RUEHMRE RUEHSR RUEAUSA RUEHPH
DE RUEHFR #5051/01 2061511
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251511Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9796
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHMRE/AMCONSUL MARSEILLE 1215
RUEHSR/AMCONSUL STRASBOURG 0136
RUEAUSA/DEPARTMENT OF HHS WASHDC
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 005051

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV TPHY TSPA TSPL KSCA FR
SUBJECT: BEATING THE HEAT: GOF ON ALERT

REF: 03 PARIS 6748 AND PREVIOUS

SUMMARY
-------

1. Soaring temperatures in France since mid-July are considered
responsible for the death of at least 30 people. Anxious to avoid a
repeat of the 2003 heat wave catastrophe (15,000 deaths, reftel),
the GOF recently implemented an updated heat wave plan (Plan
National contre la Canicule, or PNC). The plan includes a new
warning and alert system which has, so far, proven satisfactory.
Information campaigns to increase public awareness seem to be having
an effect and the quality of care in retirement homes has
significantly improved since 2003. Nevertheless, with temperatures
expected to remain high in the coming days, just as French surgeons
and specialists are going on strike in the private hospital sector,
tension is growing. The GOF is working hard to mobilize resources
and demonstrate its preparedness. End summary.

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Still Under "Heat Wave Threshold"
---------------------------------

2. Facts and figures: Temperatures of well over 95F have been
recorded in most of France since mid-July, up to 104F on July 19,
and are expected to remain as high as 100F in the coming days. The
current heat wave constitutes the first major climatic event since
August 2003. Temperatures, however, are still significantly below
those of 2003 (which reached 104F-111F). On July 24, 56
departements, out of 96 departements in continental France, were
placed on "Orange Alert" (the second highest alert level).

3. Health authorities stated that 30 deaths in France in the last
couple of weeks were likely due to heat-related problems. Victims
included 12 persons aged 80-94, seven outdoor workers, two homeless
people, and a 15-month old child. Many hospital emergency units
have recorded heat-related activity 15 to 20 percent above average
and the mobile emergency medical service for the homeless (SAMU) an
increase of 10 to 30 percent. Energy consumption has increased by
approximately 3 percent during the first three weeks of July, due to
increased use of cooling systems.

2003 Scenario to be Avoided at all Cost
---------------------------------------

4. The GOF's handling of the August 2003 heat wave -- which caused
approximately 15,000 deaths in France -- was sharply criticized. A
number of studies and a parliamentary enquiry launched after the
crisis were very critical of public health institutions, emphasizing
notably:

* The lack of communication within the Health Ministry;
* A totally inadequate crisis-alert system;
* A widespread failure by agencies and health services to work
together;
* The lack of medical staff and resources (massive exodus of doctors
and hospital staff on August vacation); and
* A faulty care system for the elderly.

In response, the GOF decided on a series of measures to anticipate
and face similar crises.

France Better Prepared
----------------------

5. The first PNC was released in 2004 and subsequently revised in
2005 and 2006. The Health Surveillance Institute (Institut National
de Veille Sanitaire, or INVS) also released a new Heat Health Watch
Warning System which has been integrated into the 2006 PNC. The
current alert system, which relies on an increased number of
information sources throughout the country, is widely acknowledged
as much more "reactive" and efficient. The updated PNC, based on
continuous interaction between the French Weather Bureau
Meteo-France, INVS, the health authorities, and hospital emergency
services, operates on three levels: seasonal surveillance,
pre-alert/alert, and maximal mobilization. The plan has been
operational since June 1st and should remain in place at least until
August 31st.

Key Elements in the 2006 PNC
----------------------------

6. Fight against isolation/solidarity: The updated PNC pays
specific attention to the elderly and children and underscores
prevention measures. (Note: A great majority of elderly people in
France live alone in individual dwellings. End note.) Following a
decree passed in 2004, all mayors have been requested to maintain a
list of "vulnerable" people living in individual homes to help
target the action of social and health services. The plan also
relies on local services -- post office, apartment managers, local
organizations - to help circulate information, spot people at risk,
and report potential victims of the heat.

7. In case of an emergency crisis, the GOF has earmarked 17 million
euros to permit hiring temporary staff in retirement homes and
increase home care services. As part of the PNC, the Health
Ministry has given hospitals authority to re-allocate resources in
order to cope with an influx of patients. Similarly, the GOF can
enforce the mobilization of medical staff in hospitals, including by
recalling those on summer leave. Air-conditioned spaces are
mandatory since 2005 in retirement homes and in care units.
According to GOF estimates, 96 percent of retirement homes and
hospitals were equipped with such spaces in June 2006.

GOF "Highly Mobilized" ...
--------------------------

8. Confronted with a new heat wave, the GOF has been deliberately
taking actions to display its vigilance, unlike in 2003. The recent
visit of PM de Villepin, Health Minister Xavier Bertrand, and the
Minister Delegate for Social Security and the Elderly, Philippe Bas,
to a retirement home to "check on the prevention plan" was given,
despite pressing international events, significant media attention.
President Chirac himself made an appeal for solidarity towards the
elderly, and urged authorities and individuals to be cautious about
the heat.

9. Last week, an interministerial committee led by PM de Villepin,
approved further preventive measures in the framework of the PNC,
e.g.: a ban on intensive sports activity and the authorization for
trucks to transport water during week-ends. The situation in
prisons was also reviewed. Specific measures concerning homeless
people have been taken: opening of reception centers usually closed
in summer time and a significant increase of dedicated patrols in
main cities. The PM also invited the French population to follow
GOF recommendations concerning energy efficiency.

10. Raising awareness at the work place: Labor regulations in
France do not mention a specific temperature above which work is
forbidden. Concerned with the number of victims at work, the GOF
decided to meet with labor inspectors and social partners in
professional sectors most exposed to heat-related risks (road
construction, building industry, and other outdoor laborers) to
discuss means to "reinforce the protection of workers."

Nuclear Plants: Specific Dispensation
-------------------------------------

11. Scorching temperatures are also affecting the production of
electricity. Usually a large electricity exporter, the French
Electricity Board (EDF) had to import 2,000 megawatt hours of
electricity from the international market mid-July due to lower
power output at hydro-electric and nuclear power stations and
increased energy demand for air conditioning, fans, and
refrigerators.

12. To avoid a repeat of the problems encountered in 2003 (when
nuclear plants had to shut down when river water levels dropped too
low to permit the cooling process of the reactors), EDF has taken
steps to focus production in summer time on coastal reactors (which
do not have to worry so much about the temperature of cooling water
returned to the sea). In a further attempt to avoid interruption of
energy production from reactors located along rivers, the GOF
granted EDF an exceptional exemption to release cooling waters into
rivers above legal limits, to the great displeasure of French
environmentalists.

"The Week of all Dangers?"
--------------------------

13. The heat wave in 2003 hit its climax in August. Several French
experts believe the current heat wave is here to stay and that the
hottest days are still ahead. New peaks of temperature are expected
in the next few days and representatives of the emergency services,
already confronted with a 15-20 percent increase of patients over
the last week-end, have voiced deep concern for the coming weeks.

14. The situation could also quickly aggravate if the broad strike
over fees and insurance premiums by surgeons, anesthesiologists, and
obstetrician-gynecologists in the private hospital sector, which
began on July 24 for an "unlimited period of time," is widely
followed. Should this be the case, many patients will have to be
reoriented towards public establishments, further contributing to
the saturation of the public emergency sector. In response, the
Health Minister asked advanced medical students and retired
practitioners willing to cooperate to contact hospital emergency
units and SAMU services.

Comments
--------

15. No summer break for Xavier Bertrand. Since 2003, the heat wave
issue has been politically charged. Heavily criticized in 2003 for
the tardy response of public services, the Raffarin government was
weakened by the crisis, which also put an end to the political
ambitions of Health Minister Mattei. Already beset by a number of
crises since last fall, the de Villepin government knows it cannot
afford another "faux-pas" and is very eager to show its
preparedness. Since mid-July, Health Minister Bertrand has been out
in front of the issue. Bertrand will meet in the next few days with
representatives of the private hospital sector in an effort to rally
them to the GOF's mobilization plan against the heat wave.

Stapleton

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