very soon? Covid cases rise as France prepares to lift restrictions
The latest surge in infections is a cause for concern as France prepares to lift most of its Covid-19 restrictions on Monday, with some health workers lamenting a premature move dictated by political imperatives ahead of the country’s presidential election.
The war in Ukraine and the looming presidential contest in France, Covid-19 have vanished from French news in recent weeks, yet the pandemic that brought the world to a standstill in 2020 is far from over.
In fact, after weeks of steady decline, Covid infections are re-emerging again, according to the public health authority, Sainte-Public France. The number of new infections approached 75,000 on Thursday, up from 60,000 the previous week. The more accurate 7-day average published on Wednesday indicated nearly 70,000 new cases per day – up 20% on a week-over-week basis.
Guillaume Rozier, founder of the government-sponsored website CovidTracker, says the national average masks large regional disparities, creating a link between the slight increase in cases and the sudden return of French regions to school after the winter break.
“The rise in cases is most evident in northern France and along the Mediterranean coast, which roughly corresponds to areas where children returned to school earlier (on February 21),” he explained.
Foundation schools are known to be contagious as pupils, teachers and parents mingle after the winter break. Health experts have also pointed to a slowdown in social distancing measures as people lower their guard.
Another possible factor of infection is the prevalence of Omicron’s BA.2 subfactor, which early studies suggest can be up to 30% more contagious than the strain that has been prevalent to date.
France is not alone with a slight rise in cases, with Germany, Britain and the Netherlands reporting similar trends. However, like its European counterparts, the French government is determined to stick to its timetable for lifting restrictions.
‘Now is not the time to do it’ British expert says on move to ease Covid restrictions
© Reuters Rules requiring people to show a passport for the aCovid-19 vaccine to gain access to venues will be lifted on Monday, March 14, less than a month before the country’s presidential election. The same applies to the necessity of wearing face masks indoors.
From now on, the face coverings that have become a symbol of the pandemic will only be required on public transportation, hospitals and nursing homes – marking a major policy shift that some experts and health workers have called premature.
The French Minister of Health said that the move will be conditioned on a number of health indicators. “It seems that sticking to the schedule is the priority now,” said Switzerland-based epidemiologist Antoine Flahaut, referring to Health Minister Olivier Veran’s claim that restrictions will only be lifted if the infection rate – the number of new cases per 100,000 people – remains below 500 ( now 546).
The government is also falling short of its target of reducing the number of patients in the intensive care unit to less than 1,500. The number only recently fell below the 2,000 level, the lowest level since early December.
Levée du #passvaccinal: “Il faudrait être à 1500 sick en réa: au rythme actuel on y sera dans 2 ou 3 semaines. Il faudrait aussi un taux d’incidence faible (300-500 max). On va l’atteindre, et là aussi d’ici 2 ou 3 semaines maxi, c’est une bonne nouvelle.” olivierveran pic.twitter.com/I0MMnyIrTK
– Public Sénat (publicsenat) February 22, 2022 Politics outweighing health concerns According to Jerome Marty, who heads the UFML medical union, the decision to lift restrictions came too early and misguided politically motivated.
“It would not have bothered me if the infection was dropping, but it is clearly not the case. Moreover, we are dropping face masks without implementing any parallel measures to ventilate indoor spaces and prevent viral concentrations,” he told France 24. “With the presidential campaign in full swing, The motive is clearly political, not health.”
>> Read more: In France skeptical about vaccines, candidates are walking a tightrope on Covid measures
The fear is that hospitalization could start to rise again, as is already the case in the UK, although France’s high vaccination rate and the arrival of spring will help ease the pressure on hospitals.
“The public can count on better vaccine protection and greater knowledge of the virus than in the past,” Marty said. “The problem is that we still have five million people who have not been vaccinated and about 300,000 who are immunocompromised.”
Overcoming doubts about vaccines in the Caribbean Health workers are particularly concerned about the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where the number of new cases has crossed the alert threshold once again.
So far, only 45% of Guadeloupe’s population has received their first vaccine. Less than a quarter of the population completed the three-dose vaccination. Local officials hope to overcome widespread vaccine skepticism by introducing the Novavax jab vaccine, a more conventional vaccine compared to the types of mRNA used so far.
Anti-vaccination protesters attack staff of Guadeloupe Hospital
When announcing the death of the territory’s 1,000th hospital due to Covid-19 in late February, local health workers lamented “a massacre unprecedented since the cholera epidemic in Guadeloupe in 1865-6”.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also warned on Wednesday that “this pandemic is not over yet.”
This article is adapted from the original text in French.
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