Update from France

It’s a while since I last did one of these posts and there has been quite a lot going on recently! France is experiencing record high levels of Covid infections, but deaths and hospitalisations are lower than during previous waves. How much of a problem are the high case numbers? 

Last month the French Health Minister Olivier Véran warned of a “mega-wave”, in which infections from the Delta and Omicron variants of Covid would combine to produce record case numbers.

His prediction was correct – France is currently recording more new Covid infections than at any other point during the pandemic – with a seven-day average of 265,837 new daily cases last week.

France is experiencing unprecedented levels of Covid cases. Source: covidtracker.fr

Part of this can be explained by the fact that people are testing more now than ever before.

But for Pascal Crépey, a researcher at France’s École des hautes études en santé publique, it has more to do with the transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which is now the dominant strain in France.

What does this mean for hospitals?

The French government has previously enacted lockdowns when the intensive care units became overwhelmed with Covid cases because the situation in the country’s hospitals affects everyone.

Currently, the fifth wave hasn’t led to the same level of serious illness as previous ones. The latest figures show just under 4,000 people in intensive care with Covid-19 – a far cry from the 7,019 people in the same situation in April 2020.

France is experiencing an increase in the number of people in intensive care units suffering with Covid. But previous waves have seen higher intensive care occupancy.
Source: covidtracker.fr

France’s high vaccination rate is undoubtedly having an impact, but it seems that the Omicron variant is less likely to make people seriously ill than other strains of Covid.

But that doesn’t mean that we are in the clear yet – the graph above demonstrates that the number of Covid patients in intensive care is continuing to grow. Some hospitals have already seen their intensive care services become saturated meaning there is no more space for people who have heart attacks or road accidents. Consequently, there are hundreds of patients waiting for an operation.

And, let’s not forget, the impact of nearly two years of the pandemic is also beginning to take a toll on hospital staff themselves.

Outside of intensive care units, the number of Covid patients needing hospitalisation is growing at an even faster rate. Understandably, many working in the French medical sector believe the government has not done enough to support them. They would have liked school holidays to be extended by at least another week but it’s a touch balancing act for everyone, everywhere.

Easing of Rules for Schools

Yesterday, France announced an easing of Covid rules for schools as record-high case numbers shut down thousands of classes and sparked concern among parents and teachers. Prime Minister Jean Castex told French television that more than 10,000 classes — 2% of the total — had to be cancelled because of coronavirus outbreaks, but that the government would not:

…….shut down the schools or the country.

France has suffered more than 125,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, and yesterday recorded 93,896 new coronavirus cases as the highly contagious Omicron variant drives up daily infections to record highs.

From today, parents will no longer be obliged to pick up their child immediately for Covid testing if he or she is a contact case of a virus sufferer. Instead, they can wait until the end of the school day.

Three self-tests, performed on the day of contact, plus days 2 and 4, will be deemed sufficient rather than testing at an officially approved site, with the parents signing a single certificate to confirm all three results. The test kits, available from pharmacies, will be free of charge.

So when will this fifth wave be over? 

The head of the French Vaccine Strategy Council, Alain Fischer, predicted last week that the fifth wave will peak by the end of January. That sounds like a realistic scenario, but infections could plateau, remaining at a high level, rather than peak and then begin to fall rapidly.

Trouble is there are no real examples apart from in southern Africa, where the situation has been improving dramatically in recent weeks. But it is not really easy to transpose that situation to Europe. In the southern hemisphere, it is the summer, so more people are outdoors.

The evolution of case numbers in the UK, which experienced a dramatic Omicron surge weeks before France, is a far better indicator for how things will probably go here.

Even if France avoids the most catastrophic situation, most sectors of the economy could be affected by absenteeism, even if people are sick for just a short period of time. This could include essential sectors, for about two to four weeks around the peak, but hopefully not for a long time.

Could this really be the last wave? 

The French Health Minister, Olivier Véran, gave an interview with some positive-sounding news to kick off the new year.

This fifth wave will maybe be the last. The Omicron variant is so contagious that it will hit all the populations in the world. It will lead to a reinforced immunity. We will all be better armed once it has passed.

Unfortunately, not many epidemiologists agreed with him saying it  was a little bit of wishful thinking rather than a scientifically-grounded comment. Epidemiologists insist this coronavirus will not go away. There is no reason for it to go away. What is sure is that the engine for the creation of new variants is replication of the virus.

When it replicates, it mutates. More cases means there is more opportunity for the variant to mutate and create a new one with an even better ability to spread. Key to solving the problem is the air quality of indoor settings. The locations where we are infected today are indoor, poorly ventilated, crowded spaces.

How does vaccination help?  

Thankfully the number of people dying from Covid-19 is far lower than during previous waves.

While some of this can be attributed to differences in the Omicron variant, data from hospitals show that around 80% of Covid patients in intensive care are unvaccinated. Of the remaining 20%, the vast majority have suppressed immune systems through pre-existing conditions.

The number of Covid deaths recorded in hospitals is lower now than during previous waves. Source: covidtracker.fr

France has a high vaccination rate with more than 90% of the eligible population – and 78% of the total population – vaccinated with at least one dose. However, the fact that case numbers are exploding has dented public confidence in the vaccination programme. That said wherever we’ve been recently we’ve seen long queues for vaccinations and testing.


41 Comments on “Update from France

  1. The hospital high rate of usage is due to the fact that macron in 2017 elimanated 300k beds on cost reduction one reason the high occupancy rate is high . The nurses are due for a strike for better working conditions and low pay due to cuts in the health plan . The omicron is just another mutation next will be Kappa and so on. Just get a shot like the flu and all will be fine. In my neck of the woods Morbihan we have one of the lowest rate. This is the fashion of the time all over but Cancer is the No 1 cause of death in France and hardly mentioned!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. much the same is happening here in the USA. our vaccination rate remains low at about 62% but , like in france, the unvax make up the majority of those in the hospital and of the deaths related to COVID-19. politics make up the biggest divide as who is vaxed and how things are being done concerning the pandemic.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I wonder what will be left of the medical staff, teachers, and police/fire after this pandemic has passed? Like others have expressed here, I’m staying in as much as possible and not burdening our hospitals. Stay healthy all.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The state of the hospitals is a big part of my current fear. That, and how difficult it is for any young child to keep a mask snug over both nose and mouth.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Same here in Canada, Sheree, thankfully it does not seem to be as deadly. I have two kids and just itching to get them back to school. Fingers crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Same here in the US, only I don’t think our vaccination rate is as high, my state is only 70% with one shot and in the high 40% for fully – gotta love living in the Southeastern part of the USA! For me personally, I am not quarantining at home, because I’m one of two from my work-group of 7 that isn’t positive for Covid-19. I’m just glad no one has been hospitalized, yet. (3 of the 7 are not vax’ed at all and I worry about them).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being vaxxed doesn’t stop you getting Covid, just lessens the symptoms as high infection rates amply demonstrate. Stay safe Eric!


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