“All indicators show that transmission of SARS-COV-2 infection is progressing and intensifying in week 31,” France’s national health agency Santé Publique France wrote in their weekly Covid-19 update on Thursday.
France first reported a spike in the number new coronavirus cases a couple of weeks ago, when the country saw the daily reports exceed 1,000 for the first time in several months, a tally that kept high in the following days.
On Thursday last week, the number of intensive care patients admitted for Covid-19 rose for the first time since May. Although the increase was largely symbolic – by only one person, up to 345 – it marked a shift from the steady slump since April 9th when a peak of 7,019 patients was reached. The total number of intensive care patients as of August 6th was 360.
The rising numbers has had some people calling for more government action.
“So, how long are they going to watch the curve increase before reacting?” one person wrote in a Tweet that was shared nearly 1,000 times.
1. Bon, ils vont regarder combien de temps la courbe grimper avant de réagir ? pic.twitter.com/FGCiYVNiCm
— Maître Pandaï (@Panda31808732) August 4, 2020
But some experts say there is no need to panic yet.
Antoine Flahault, professor of public health and Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, told The Local that, while there was “cause for worry,” the numbers needed to be put in context.
The Geneva Institute closely monitors the development of the pandemic across the world and Flahault compared the situation in France to that of other European countries, saying that at present the situation was “not alarming.”
“The virus has not disappeared during the summer, but France is not in a situation of exponential growth as back in March,” the professor said.
In March, the pandemic spread so quickly that hospitals in hot-spots were struggling to cope and the government sent in military personnel to help the hardest-hit areas.
France imposed one of the strictest nationwide lockdowns in the world, confining the entire population to their homes for two months.
Comparing the current pandemic state in France to that in March was like “taking a temperature with two different kinds of thermometers,” the professor said, as France's enhanced testing capacities made the metrics “much more sensitive now.”
“When you test more, you will get more cases,” Flahault said.
France has massively ramped up the country's testing capacities since this spring, to keep track of the virus and break up transmission chains. While the government's stated goal of 700,000 tests per day was yet to be met, France tested 580,000 people in the first week of August. This represented an increase from around 200,000-230,000 tests a week over the course of June, and up from around 400,000 tests per week in July.
The graphic below shows the number of tests done weekly since the end of lockdown in May.
Source: Santé Publique France
At the same time, a majority of the new positives were so-called 'asymptomatic' cases of people who did not present visible signs of the virus. Fifty-one percent of the new cases last week were asymptomatic, down from 55 percent the week before. In total, 65 percent of the total positive confirmed cases in France have been ticked as asymptomatic.
“The best policy today is to test a lot. That way you trigger the anxiety of the population and individual responsibility, which is the best way to control the disease,” he said.
This seems to be the current official strategy.
The Scientific Council, set up to advise the government on coronavirus-related measures, this week released a warning that France risked losing control over the virus and that, if the numbers kept growing, the country soon could find itself in a situation similar to that of Spain.
“When you can’t keep safe distances, put on a mask,” the president told BFMTV during a visit in Beirut, Lebanon.
« Je recommande la plus grande vigilance », « être masqué systématiquement dans un lieu clos » et « quand on ne peut pas tenir les distances de sécurité, de mettre un masque », a ajouté le chef de l'Etat dans une interview à BFMTV. Via @le_Parisien #Macron https://t.co/pKbgqZlggi
— Ensemble Avec Macron ?? #FranceUnie (@EnsembleEMacron) August 7, 2020