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HEALTH

France steps up coronavirus measures but vows to keep border with Italy open

After more than 300 reported cases of coronavirus and 12 deaths in neighbouring Italy, French ministers have held an emergency meeting to step up preparations in France.

France steps up coronavirus measures but vows to keep border with Italy open
Photo: AFP

Italy had confirmed several hundred cases of coronavirus in eight regions – by far the largest outbreak in Europe so far. Twelve people have died of the illness, the first deaths of people who had contracted the virus in Europe (an 80-year-old man who died of the illness in France on February 14th was a tourist who had travelled from China before developing symptoms).

 

Many Italian towns are now in lockdown as officials struggle to contain the spread of the virus.

Faced with this situation just over the border, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe convened an emergency meeting of ministers – including newly appointed health minister Olivier Véran – on Sunday night to increase France's readiness.

READ ALSO Coronavirus in France: What you need to know


France's newly appointed health minister Olivier Véran. His predecessor Agnès Buzyn is now running for Mayor of Paris. Photo: AFP

Here is what is happening;

Hospitals

An extra 70 hospitals are now prepared to receive and treat coronavirus patients.

Previously people with diagnosed or suspected coronavirus had all been sent to one of 38 university or specialist hospitals. Now a total of 108 hospitals – with at least one in each mainland département of France – have been prepared to receive, isolate and treat coronavirus cases.

Screening

Extra resources have been allocated for testing for potential cases of coronavirus and the testing capacity has been multiplied by three.

Health minister Olivier Véran said: “I have called the head of the University Hospital Institute of Infectious Diseases in Marseille, it is able to perform 1,000 tests per day in the area of Marseille alone. In the hospitals of Paris we are at 400 tests per day. We are going to be able to amplify the screening to be able to answer all the requests at that scale across France.”

Masks

An order has been placed for tens of millions of protective masks for health workers. The first case of coronavirus contracted in France was a healthworker who had been treating an infected person. France is therefore ordering high quality protective masks for all health workers who are in close contact with patients.

In the early days of the outbreak pharmacies across France reported selling out of surgical masks, but former health minister Agnès Buzyn said these are not effective in protecting people from the virus.

Border

The border between France and Italy will not be closed, ministers announced.  “It doesn't make much sense,” said Jérôme Salomon, Director General of Health. “Not to mention that you can travel by land, sea and air, or go through Italy and Austria.”

France had earlier in the outbreak ruled out temperature screening at airports, pointing out that the virus' long incubation period – up to 14 days – makes it ineffective. However there will now be additional information distributed to all passengers arriving from Italy about the symptoms to look out for and the procedure to follow in France.


Borders will not be closed. Photo: AFP

Quarantines

Italy has placed 11 towns on lockdown in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus and imposed a range of curfews. When asked if France could do the same in case of a mass outbreak, Jérôme Salomon said it was “not impossible” and provisions are already in place for such measures under France's existing plans for pandemic flu.

However the minister added that there have been no new cases of coronavirus detected in the last week.

Véran said: “We are acting quickly, we are taking strong action to deal with the epidemic threat and we are taking all the measures necessary to ensure the safety of the French people.”

He stressed the “very evolving” nature of the situation and added that he had spoken with his Italian and German counterparts. “We have agreed to meet again with several EU Health Ministers probably next week to discuss together how to deal with the risk of an epidemic.”

The most recent cases in France all centred around the ski resort of Contamines-Montjoie, where a British man infected a group of people who stayed in the same chalet.

In total France has had 12 confirmed cases – one French healthworker, six people in Contamines-Montjoie and five people who had recently travelled from China.

One the patients – an 80-year-old Chinese tourist – died of the illness while the others all made a full recovery and all but one have now been released from hospital.

According to the WHO, more than 80 percent of patients infected with the virus have mild disease and recover, while 14 percent have severe diseases such as pneumonia. Only five percent of cases are considered critical.

Anyone who who believes they may have the symptoms of the illness – which include cough, headache, fatigue, fever, aching and difficulty breathing – should not go to hospital, instead health authorities are asking people to call an ambulance and tell the operator it is a suspected case of coronavirus. The ambulance number in France is 15.

READ ALSO Emergency in France – who to call and what to say

French vocab

Fièvre – fever

Maux de tête – headache

Courbatures – aches

Toux – cough

Difficultés respiratoires – breathing difficulties

Un rhume – a cold

La grippe – the flu

Coronavirus – coronavirus

SAMU – the French ambulance service, or service d'aide médicale urgente, to give them their full name

 

 

 

 

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HEALTH

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters in France this autumn

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

READ ALSO When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.

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