The Covid-19 has been the rhythm of our lives for a year and a half. And, according to the ebb and flow of the epidemic, but also to the advance of knowledge, the official discourse has evolved a lot, moving from the warlike vocabulary to the optimism of last summer, from excess of caution to the overconfidence. Within the government itself, dissonant voices have been heard. For Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet, professor of political communication at Sciences Po, author of the comic strip The President, two camps have emerged fairly quickly since the start of the health crisis. "On the one hand, there is only positive, reassuring communication, which minimizes the consequences of the epidemic and the efforts to be made from the population," he begins. It is in this camp that we find, in particular “Jean-Michel Blanquer but also Alain Fischer”. Opposite, the opposite line,"More worrying, more realistic, with Olivier Véran, Edouard Philippe when he was in Matignon, but also Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and other members of the government, rather young", lists the professor of political communication. Two ways of seeing that sometimes collide.
Edouard Philippe, always very careful
After two months of hesitation, the government took the epidemic very seriously on March 12, 2020, with the announcement of the closure of schools, then on March 16, with that of the very first confinement. Emmanuel Macron then gave a determined speech with bellicose accents, repeating that we were "at war" in the face of an "elusive invisible enemy" and an epidemic that was spreading "in a disturbing way". But the veneer of union, first displayed within the government, quickly cracked. In particular in the person of Jean-Michel Blanquer, who had already assured that the schools would not close on March 12, 2020, then at the time of deconfinement, counted on a reopening of schools on May 4 when it did not take place , only partially, on 11.He then drew criticism by saying that there was "more risk to stay at home than to go to school". The illustration, already, of its reassuring position.
Conversely, during this same period, at the end of April then at the beginning of May, Edouard Philippe, then Prime Minister, always wanted to be very careful.
"We are going to have to live with the virus", he already said on April 28, 2020, in front of the deputies, explaining that "the risk of a second wave (...) is a serious risk".
On May 7, he let it be known that as long as we have no vaccines, no treatments, no collective immunity, the only way to live is to protect ourselves from them.
In the same vein, that day, Olivier Véran warned that France was not going to resume "a completely normal life".
“At the time, Edouard Philippe was in a different line from the Elysee Palace, which criticized him for being too careful for fear of possible legal consequences,” recalls Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet.
The optimism of summer 2020
At the end of May 2020, on leaving confinement, the one who was still Prime Minister opted for an optimistic communication tinged with mistrust.
Edouard Philippe announced "good results" in terms of health, while explaining that one should not "run the risk of carelessness".
Two weeks later, in a speech, Emmanuel Macron recalled that "the fight against the epidemic (was) not over" but wanted to be even more optimistic: "we will be able to turn the page of the first act of the crisis that we just crossed ”.
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Very quickly, hopes were showered by the epidemic resumption of the summer. But again, the speeches varied slightly from one member of the government to another. On the one hand, Olivier Véran warned against "a risky situation" from August 23 in the JDD and explained on September 8 on France Inter that the virus was circulating "less quickly (than in the spring) but more and more quickly ”and especially that the authorities noted“ an increase in hospitalizations, admissions in intensive care ”. On the other hand, Jean-Michel Blanquer said on August 26 that the start of the school year was going to take place "under the most normal possible conditions". And even when Olivier Véran saw the situation "deteriorate", the Minister of Education still estimated on October 13, on RTL, that "the situation (was) under control" in the school field.In the middle of the two, Jean Castex held a more mixed discourse. The new tenant of Matignon alerted on August 11 of the epidemic resumption, affirming that the situation had "deteriorated" and developed "in the wrong direction", while specifying 15 days after that the impact was "relatively weak" for the hospital system and that it was more of a “trend” than an “explosion”.
Jean Castex: "The situation has deteriorated over the past few days"
During the fall and throughout the second wave, the government then relied on a communication to recognize the importance of the epidemic recovery, but to affirm that the situation was similar elsewhere in Europe and in the world.
"The virus is circulating in France at a speed that even the most pessimistic forecasts had not anticipated", recognized for example Emmanuel Macron on October 28, affirming that all the countries "in Europe" were "surprised by the evolution of the virus ".
Once the peak of the second wave passed, in November, the government relied on the notion of plateau, highlighting the improvement of the situation compared to previous weeks while recalling that traffic was still active. Then, with the resumption of the epidemic at the beginning of the year 2021, the communication of the authorities was once again based on the situation abroad. The opportunity to congratulate oneself for not having confined too early despite the requests of a large part of the caregivers. "
The virus is progressing in France as almost everywhere in Europe (…) even in countries which have confined ”, thus advanced Jean Castex, on February 25.
According to Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet, since the beginning of January, the Elysée has had to carry out “a balancing act, with the objective of 2022: it was therefore necessary to send a positive message without completely denying the reality.
Castex is ideal for that, it illustrates all the ambiguity of this position.
Return of optimism thanks to vaccines
Since the end of April, the trend has clearly been optimism and the ranks seem to be tightened behind the presidential position.
The main argument is that of vaccination.
big difference with the month of October is that today we have the vaccine (…) it is a real change in the management of the epidemic ”, welcomed Emmanuel Macron on April 29, in his interview with the regional press to present the plan to reopen the country.
In the same vein, Jean Castex repeated on the 10th but that the country was "in the process of emerging from this health crisis on a lasting basis", and concluded: "today, it is the big difference, we have the possibility of being vaccinated. ".
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A new step has finally been taken in recent days, with the announcement of the abandonment of the mask outdoors and the lifting of the advanced curfew. Choices that Jean Castex explained on June 16 by the fact that "the health situation in our country is improving and it is improving even faster than we had hoped". This Thursday, Olivier Véran echoed this observation, bringing his usual caution: "the epidemic is declining rapidly and being under control".