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HEALTH

Coronavirus: France moves into ‘new stage of epidemic’ as number of cases rises to 100

France has now had 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus - 88 of which have been diagnosed since Tuesday. The country's health minister said the country was now in "stage 2" of the coronavirus epidemic.

Coronavirus: France moves into 'new stage of epidemic' as number of cases rises to 100
Photo: AFP

France's new health minister Olivier Véran has confirmed that the number of confirmed cases in France now stands at 100, all but 12 of which have been diagnosed since the major outbreak began in Italy over the weekend.

Echoing the words of President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day, he said: “We are preparing for an epidemic.”

READ ALSO Paris marathon axed as government bans all events of more than 5,000 people

He added: “We are now moving to stage two. The virus is circulating in our country and we must stop its spread.”

Existing hygiene advice – regular handwashing, using disposable tissues, covering you mouth with you elbow when you cough – remains in place, but the minister added: “I now recommend people avoid shaking hands.”

France has launched a special hotline number so worried members of the public can seek help and advice that is manned 24/7. The number is 0800 130 000. The emergency number 15 should only be used if the a member of the public believes they are suffering from a medical condition linked to coronavirus.

READ ALSO Coronavirus: The everyday precautions you can take to stay safe in France

Jérome Salomon, left, and health minister Olivier Véran. Photo: AFP

Of the 88 new cases announced this week, nine people are in a serious condition, including two who had both recently returned from Egypt as part of a tour group.

The official total of 100 includes 11 who fully recovered from the virus earlier this month and 2 fatalities, one a 60-year-old teacher from northern France the other an elderly Chinese tourist.

Jérôme Salomon, Director General of health, said that the new cases were all close associates or family members of the cases diagnosed earlier in the week.

The biggest cluster is in the Oise département, the home of the 60-year-old technology teacher who died of the virus on Tuesday, and Haute-Savoie in eastern France.

There are also confirmed cases in Lyon, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Nice and the Seine-Saint-Denis département on the outskirts of Paris.

French authorities have been expecting a surge in the number of cases ever since the outbreak in Italy, but are concerned that the teacher who died had not travelled to an infected zone and had no obvious contact with anyone who had.

A hunt has now been launched to try and identify the 'patient zero'.


Emmanuel Macron and France's new health minister Olivier Véran visiting staff at Pitié Salpêtrère hospital. Photo: AFP

“We are facing a crisis, an epidemic that is coming,” said French president Emmanuel Macron while visiting staff at the La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, where the first French person carrying the new coronavirus died on Tuesday.

“We know that we're only at the beginning… we're going to try with all our caretakers to make the right decisions,” Macron said alongside Health Minister Olivier Veran.

“You had a case here… I know this affected many of your teams,” he said, pledging to address the crisis “truthfully” so that measures can be taken “calmly”.

 

 

READ ALSO Coronavirus: What are the rules for self isolating and quarantine in France

MAP Which Italian regions are worst affected by coronavirus?

French authorities have been stepping up preparations ever since the major outbreak of coronavirus over the border in Italy was reported over the weekend.

French ministers held an emergency meeting on Sunday night to discuss the situation in Italy, and began stepping up preparations in France, including preparing 70 extra hospitals to receive coronavirus patients and tripling the resources for the country's testing programme.

However authorities said they would not be closing the border with Italy.

“It doesn't make much sense,” said Jérôme Salomon. “Not to mention that you can travel by land, sea and air, or go through Italy and Austria.”

Anyone who has recently returned from Italy or China has been told to self-isolate for two weeks in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

On its website, the French government urged those returning from the listed places to “avoid all non-essential outings”, giving as examples “big gatherings, restaurants, the cinema”, for two weeks after their return and to keep their children home from daycare or school. 

Employees and students were encouraged to work from home “in so far as possible” and to avoid meetings, elevators and cafeterias.

Schools are currently asking all pupils recently returned from China, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea or Italy to stay at home for a fortnight.

Italy is a popular holiday destination for French families during the February holidays, and many schools also run trips there over the break.

Many schools have reported issuing advice to pupils to stay at home, and there are expected to be more on Monday when the new term starts for schools in zone B – Aix-Marseille and Nice.

France was the first country in Europe to confirm cases of coronavirus on January 24th, although then health minister Agnès Buzyn said at the time she believed that was simply because France had developed a better testing protocol than many other countries.

France initially saw five cases diagnosed in late January, all people who had recently travelled from China, where the outbreak began.

A French health worker who had treated a patient then became the sixth person to be infected.

The next six cases were all centred on a ski resort in the French Alps where a British man who had recently returned from Asia passed the virus on to a group of people who had been staying in the same ski chalet.

Apart from the elderly Chinese tourist all 11 recovered.

Until Tuesday, there had been no new cases for over a fortnight, but as more cases were confirmed in Italy, then Spain, Austria and Switzerland, French authorities prepared themselves again.

The World Health Organisation reports that of the people who contract the virus, the vast majority will make a full recovery and only five percent of cases are considered critical.

The people who have died so far have generally been elderly or with underlying health conditions.

France has in fact been officially in an epidemic state for normal seasonal flu since the start of February as thousands have fallen sick. Since the start of the flu season in November, 530 people have been admitted to intensive care and 44 people have died.

In France authorities are asking people who think they may have coronavirus symptoms not to go to hospital or their doctor's surgery.

 

 

READ ALSO Coronavirus in France: What you need to know

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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