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HEALTH

New coronavirus clusters in France test government’s strategy to exit lockdown

As France takes the first steps on the slow return to normal, reports of new coronavirus clusters around the country have sparked concern.

New coronavirus clusters in France test government's strategy to exit lockdown
Photo: AFP

“We need to remember that the virus is here, circulating, ready for an ambush,” virologist Anne-Claude Crémieux told France Info.

The new clusters were discovered just before May 11th, the day France began to ease its strict, nationwide lockdown.

Eliminating these clusters has proved an important first test of France's main strategy – testing, tracing and isolating – to safely reopen society.

Local authorities in the cluster areas have had their hands full to successfully track and test those at risk of having been contaminated.

All the clusters were found in so-called green zones.

Before the lockdown, France divided the country into red and green zones, with slightly looser restrictions in the green zones, due to their low rates of coronavirus infection and pressure on local hospital.

Four regions are in red – Île-de-France, Grand-Est, Hauts-de-France and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté – and one département, the overseas territory of Mayotte.
 
 

 

This map shows how the country was divided into green and red départements, as of May 7th. Source: French Health Ministry

The green départements have an estimated circulation of the coronavirus of six percent or less. But the estimates are based on the number of people that got tested in a hospital and the real contamination level is likely higher.

READ MORE: What is the difference between a red and green département?

Green areas had to be particularly aware of the possibility of invisible, unregistered cases, Crémieux stressed.

“We know that more than half of the people infected have few or no symptoms, so the transmission chains are practically invisible,” she said.

This was the case for a vast majority of the people that tested positive in the new clusters, as detailed below.

This map shows the estimated coronavirus circulation in each département, as of May 7th. Source: French Health Ministry

Where are the clusters?

Three of the clusters are in the southwestern middle of France, in the départements Dordogne and Vienne and Vendée.

A fourth was discovered in Clamart, in the Hauts-de-Seine département, less than 10 km from Paris, which is a hard-hit red zone.

A fifth, newest cluster is located in Tarn, a southern département in the Occitanie region.

What do we know about them?

Dordogne

The cluster in Dordogne was discovered when a man tested positive for the virus six days after he had been to the funeral in the neighbourhood village (the cause of death was not the coronavirus).

The regional health authorities of Nouvelle-Aquitaine traced and tested 150 people that had been in contact with the man or who had been close to the funeral premises.

Of the total tests carried out, nine – eight in the same family – turned out positive. 

The people testing positive showed few or no symptoms at the time.

READ MORE: New cases of Coronavirus emerge in Dordogne after dozens attend funeral gathering

Vienne

This cluster was detected after a staff at a secondary school (collège) tested positive for the virus the week following a staff meeting at the premises.

Local authorities tracked and tested all of the people who had been in contact with the first case and who could have gotten the virus.
 
Three tests came back positive.
 
The authorities then broadened out the group that needed to be tested to include people close to the new positives. Sixty tests out of 74 have so far come back negative.
 
Vendée

The cluster in Vendée originated in a slaughterhouse.

After several employees tested positive for the coronavirus, local authorities organised testing all of the people working on the premises.

Of the 261 tests taken on Saturday, four came back positive – all of them cases where the person carrying the virus did not so far present any symptoms, according to France Bleu.

The authorities ramped up the testing to include people that could have been contaminated by these four cases.

About 700 people will be tested in total. 

Hauts-de-Seine

Less than a week before the easing of lockdown on May 11th, Hauts-de-Seine – a Parisian suburb – was coloured red on the government's map. 

Now a green département, local authorities hit a bump in the road after a cluster was detected in the town of Clamart.

According to French Daily Le Parisien, it originated when a man whose housemate had the virus moved into a foyer for young working men.

He had no symptoms and was cleared by his doctor before the move. But, three days later, he got the first symptoms.

His test came back positive and authorities are currently testing all of the other men in the foyer. Seven out of 20 people tested have so far been confirmed as carrying the virus. 

The total number could turn out to be higher as 21 test results have not come back yet. None of the people who tested positive showed any symptoms so far.

Tarn

On Monday, local authorities in Tarn tested 175 after one person – a nursery (maternelle) teacher – tested positive for the virus.

Of the 35 first tests in a first round, three came back positive, which had health authorities expand the testing range.

'Did not respect health rules'
 
In two clusters – the funeral in Dordogne and the foyer in Hauts-de-Seine – the people concerned had not respected the official health rules, according to authorities.
 
In the latter case, their doctor told France Info that: “When we told them, they thought it was a joke because they did feel tired or have any aches.”
 
As for the funeral, they had been 20 people as required for the ceremony, but many more people had shown up for the wake.
 
The prefect of Dordogne told France Info that “this really illustrate exactly what we don't want to experience in the coming three weeks.”
 
“Relaxation, family meetings, children, grandchildren, grandparents, neighbours.. People gathering in groups of 30 and, as it happens, one person contaminates a big number of people requiring us to mobilise a lot of people (to sort it out),” he said.
 

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LIVING IN FRANCE

Life in France: 5 plants that (allegedly) repel mosquitoes

Summer in France brings lots of good stuff and some deeply annoying things, like mosquitoes. But did you know that there are plants that you can add to your garden or balcony that will repel these deeply unwelcome visitors?

Life in France: 5 plants that (allegedly) repel mosquitoes

If you’re one of these people who are attractive to mosquitoes then you’ll know the misery of spending the summer covered in itchy red lumps – and the bad news is that the rising global temperatures mean that ‘mosquito season’ in France now lasts longer.

It’s a common problem and in the summer French florists and garden centres often sell ‘anti-moustique‘ plants.

We’re not promising a 100 percent repellent rate, but these are some plants that apparently help.

In good news, most of them are small enough so that you can grow them on your balcony or in a window box if you don’t have a garden.  

Mint (menthe)

A common herb that many people might already have in their gardens, but mosquitoes apparently hate the lovely, fresh scent of mint.

And even if it fails to ward off the bugs, at least you can use the leaves to garnish food or make a nice big jug of Pimms (which might distract you from your horrible, itchy bites).

READ MORE: France’s most toxic plants and berries to watch out for

Marigolds (Rose d’inde, sometimes known as Souci)

These are a popular choice to add a touch of colour to a window box or balcony, as well as to a garden, and have the added benefit of warding off mosquitoes.

Gardeners like them because can boost the growth of other plants when planted together.

Rosemary (romarain)

Another aromatic herb that humans love and mosquitoes apparently hate.

If you’re planting it in the garden use a container because it has a tendency to spread and take over your garden. If you don’t want to grown it, or don’t have the space, you can always add a couple of sprigs to your grill when barbecuing to help keep the mosquitoes away as you dine outdoors.

Lemongrass (citronelle)

You’ll certainly be aware of citronella scent from various mosquito-repelling products including oils and candles, but you can also grow it in the your garden.

It grows quite big so might not be suitable for small gardens or window boxes.

Even if it doesn’t succeed in keeping insets away, you can use it in cooking to add a lemony flavour.

Wormwood (absinthe)

The final one on the list is usually said to be the most effective, but should be used with caution as it is toxic if eaten.

You can grow it in your garden or in a window box, but take great care that it doesn’t end up with your edible herbs as it will make you sick – if you have a garden when children or animals are present then it’s probably best to avoid this one altogether, but on the plus side its pungent scent will keep mosquitoes away.

As the French name suggests, wormwood is one of the main ingredients in the drink Absinthe and is what gives it the distinctive green colour.

Legend has it that wormwood is the active ingredient that makes people hallucinate after drinking absinthe, but in fact the drink is not hallucinogenic and never was. It is extremely strong though, which might explain some of those ‘visions’!

Other tips

Mosquitoes like to hang out and to breed in water or long grass, so you can help keep them away by eliminating their favourite spots. For example;

  • Keep lawns trimmed
  • Eliminate sources of stagnant water eg old plant pots that collect rainwater
  • Keep your gutters clear
  • If you have a pond consider installing a small fountain or pump, as mosquitoes usually won’t lay eggs in moving water
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