There are now 25 coronavirus clusters in France, spread out around the country and centred on workplaces, hospitals and social gatherings.
But although these sound worrying – particularly the ones in the 'green zones' that have largely escaped the worst effects of the virus so far – doctors say the fact they are being identified is good news in controlling the spread of Covid-19.
Every French region except Normandy and Corsica has at least one cluster, with three clusters each in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, Occitanie and Pays-de-la-Loire.
The type of clusters vary, some are linked to social events such as the cluster in Dordogne that was identified after dozens of people gathered after a funeral for the wake, and some are centred on workplaces – there are clusters linked to slaughterhouses in Cotes-d'Amor and Loiret.
In the greater Paris region a cluster in Hauts-de-Seine is linked to a block of affordable accommodation for young workers while two clusters – one in Maine-et-Loire and one in Cote-d'Amor – are centred around hospitals.
But while this sounds like a step backwards as France marks a week since it started to loosen its tight lockdown restrictions, doctors and scientists are more positive.
“It shows that the tests are finally being carried out, even though the feedback is still slow.”
“We can see that the 'red' zones are not the only ones concerned and that we must always be vigilant against the virus. But the fact that 70 people can be tested at once in a possible outbreak shows that the tracking of contact cases is working. And that's a good thing.”
His view was echoed by Professor Karine Lacombe, head of department at the Parisian Saint-Antoine Hospital, who told Le Parisien
: “These clusters are simply a reminder that the virus is not gone! It had slowed down over the last few weeks, but was still there
“The good news is that they have been identified.
A doctor in the Oise département, which saw the earliest identified outbreaks of Covid-19 in France, added: “As long as they are identified we can control them. If we lose it, that's when there is a risk of seeing a massive influx of patients in our hospitals.”
Contact tracing is a major plank of France's strategy to loosen the lockdown, but the country's tracing app is still being tested and won't be ready until June 2nd
, when phase 2 of the loosening of lockdown begins.
But as testing capacity increases local health authorities are once again doing contact tracing similar to the strategy at the start of the epidemic – where patients who test positive provide a list of all the people they have had recent contact with and those people are then tested.
At the height of the outbreak France only had the capacity to test people with severe symptoms or those in high-risk groups but testing has gradually been ramped up, although it has not reached the 700,000 tests a week that health minister Olivier Véran set as the May 11th target.