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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

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

An investigation has revealed that tap water supplied to some 12 million people in France was sometimes contaminated with high levels of pesticides last year.

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

Data from regional health agencies, and collated by Le Monde, found that supplies to about 20 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent the year previously, failed to consistently meet regional quality standards. 

The study highlighted regional differences in tap water quality. Hauts-de-France water was the most likely to be affected, with 65 percent of the population there drinking water contaminated by unacceptable pesticide levels. In Brittany, that level fell to 43 percent; 25.5 percent in the Grand-Est, and 25 percent in the Pays de la Loire.

Occitanie, in southwest France, meanwhile, showed the lowest level of non-compliance with standards, with just 5.1 percent of the region’s population affected by high pesticide levels in their tap water. However, figures show that 71 percent of people in one département in the region, Gers, were supplied with water containing high levels of pesticides.

Regional discrepancies in testing, including what chemicals are tested for, mean that results and standards are not uniform across France. Tap water in Haute-Corse is tested for 24 pesticide molecules; in Hauts-de-Seine, that figure rises to 477. 

One reason for regional testing standards are differences in local agricultural requirements.

Part of the increase in the year-on-year number of households supplied with affected water may also be explained by the fact that tests in many regions now seek to trace more molecules, Le Monde noted.

Water quality standards in France are strict – with a limit for pesticide residues set at 0.1 microgramme per litre, so the “high” levels found in tap water supplies may not represent a danger to health.

The question of the level of health risk to humans, therefore, remains unclear. The Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) has not defined a maximum safety level for 23 pesticides or their metabolites. Le Monde cites two metabolites of chloridazone, a herbicide used until 2020 on beet fields, for which only provisional safety levels in tap water have been set. 

Many of these molecules and their long-term effects remain unknown – and “the long-term health effects of exposure to low doses of pesticides are difficult to assess,” admits the Ministry of Health.

Michel Laforcade, former director general of the ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine told Le Monde that health authorities have “failed” on this subject. 

“One day, we will have to give an account,” he said. “It may not be on the same scale as the contaminated blood affair, but it could become the next public health scandal.”

In December 2020, the Direction générale de la santé (DGS) recommended “restricting uses of water” as soon as the 0.1 micrograms per litre quality threshold is exceeded, in cases of residues for which there is no formal maximum health value.

But this principle is not always applied, according to France 2’s Complètement d’enquête programme.

In December 2021, the DGS asked the Haut conseil de la santé publique (HCSP) “for support on the management of health risks associated with the presence of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in water intended for human consumption.”

The HCSP, in response, said that “an active and urgent policy must be implemented to reduce the contamination of resources by pesticides”.

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