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HEALTH

IN NUMBERS: How worried should we be about the rise of Covid-19 cases in France?

France has seen several weeks of big rises in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases - so exactly how worried do we need to be about this?

IN NUMBERS: How worried should we be about the rise of Covid-19 cases in France?
France is counting on extensive testing to crack down on transmission chains. Photo: AFP

France has seen confirmed cases rising by 30 percent a week over the last three weeks and health authorities have raised concerns about high levels of clusters in several areas of France.

French prime minister Jean Castex on Tuesday announced extra health measures to try and contain the spread.

So exactly how worried do we need to be about the latest numbers from Santé Publique France? And could we be heading back to lockdown?

READ ALSO MAP: Which areas of France are 'of concern' to health authorities over Covid-19 cases?

The number of confirmed cases in France is rising. Photo: AFP

Death rate

Looking first at the death rate, there were 14 deaths recorded in hospital in the last 24 hours, a much lower number than in March, when hospital deaths were peaking at around 800 a day.

After problems collating data, France now reports its care home deaths weekly rather than daily. Over the last week France has seen a total of 74 deaths in hospitals and care homes, just over 10 deaths per day. This daily average has been largely static over the last three weeks and has not seen an increase as case numbers rise.

The total number of deaths since the start of the pandemic now stands at 30,354.

Hospital admissions

Looking at hospitalisations, there are currently 5,012 patients in hospital with Covid-19, of whom 391 are in intensive care.

The overall number of people in hospital with Covid-19 continues the slow and steady decline that has been seen since April, with intensive care patients numbers seeing a slight increase last week before then decreasing again.

Health experts have long said that the intensive care patients is a key figure as this gives an indication of the likely death rate in the coming days. The total numbers are still well below the April 9th figure, which peaked at 7,148 patients in ICU.

However there is often a time lag between new cases and people being admitted to hospital.

Many of the newly diagnosed cases are in younger people who in general get milder symptoms. Health authorities are concerned that as families gather for the summer holidays the younger people will pass it to their older relatives who are more likely to become seriously ill, so the next two to three weeks will be crucial in watching hospital admission rates.

Clusters

It's the number of new cases and in particular 'clusters' of cases that have got health authorities concerned.

There are currently 227 active clusters in France, an increase of 25 in 24 hours and up from 175 the previous week. A cluster is defined as three or more cases recorded within the last seven days that have a provable link, such as work colleagues, family members or people who attended the same event.

Case numbers are more difficult to compare to the height of the epidemic, as France has massively expanded its testing programme since May, leading to more people with moderate symptoms getting tested.

The 'track and trace' programme is also picking up people who may not have any symptoms at all. In total France has had 204,172 confirmed cases since February, of which 1,397 have been confirmed in the last 24 hours.

New case numbers per 24 hours rose to above 2,000 last week, and have now dropped slightly, but are still higher than can be accounted for by expanded testing alone, say experts.

INTERVIEW What's behind France's rising Covid-19 numbers?

Around 50 percent of the people who test positive have either no symptoms or mild symptoms.

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Local hotspots

There are now 21 départements that are classified as being in a situation of 'heightened vulnerability' – these are Bouches-de-Rhône, Nord, Val d’Oise, Haute-Garonne, Haute-Savoie, Ille-et-Vilaine, Gironde, Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Hauts-de-Seine, Val-de-Marne, Hérault, Mayenne, Sarthe, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Alpes-Maritime, Var, Oise and Vacleuse which are all classified as 'moderate'.

The overseas départements of Mayotte and French Guinea are classed as elevated.

Although overall the list is growing some départements, such as Finistère, were taken off the list while Mayenne was downgraded from elevated to moderate as they managed to get their case numbers under control.

READ ALSO When and where are masks compulsory in France?

Lockdown

The French government and the advisory Scientific Council have both stated that France will not return to the nationwide lockdown seen in March and April, but that local lockdowns could be imposed if necessary.

So far no numbers have been stated for what would constitute grounds for a local lockdown, but it is likely the criteria would include sharply increasing case numbers combined with pressure on local health services. 

For the moment the government has made masks compulsory in all enclosed public spaces and is urging people to continue to respect social distancing and hygiene gestures, even as the sunny weather and prospect of holidays tempt people to become complacent.

Most experts still consider the autumn, with the cooler weather and the return to regular patterns of work, school and transport, the most likely time for a possible 'second wave' of cases.

Prime minister Jean Castex has asked all local representatives to draw up a plan for extra health measures in their area, should they become necessary.

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POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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