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HEALTH

Macron calls for ‘more restrictions’ as France reports record spike in Covid-19 cases

President Emmanuel Macron called for tougher restrictions in areas suffering from rising Covid-19 rates, as France saw a new record-high number of new cases in 24 hours. Several French cities may soon be subject to tougher restrictions.

Macron calls for 'more restrictions' as France reports record spike in Covid-19 cases
Bars in Paris have closed, along with those in Marseille, in a bid to stem the rising spread of Covid-19. Will other cities soon follow? Photo: AFP

“There are areas where the virus is circulating too quickly, especially where it’s circulating a lot among the elderly who are those most vulnerable, and where we’re seeing more and more beds occupied in intensive care units,” Macron said during an interview with France 2 on Wednesday evening.

The French president was speaking on a visit to the southeastern town Breil-sur-Roya, after devastating floods have left at least five people dead and scores of houses destroyed.

On the same night France reported a record-high daily number of new Covid-19 cases along with 80 new deaths.

Santé Publique France on Wednesday recorded 18,746 new Covid-19 cases, the most cases ever recorded in one day and beating the previous of 16,972  set on October 5th – although testing has been greatly expanded since the first wave of cases in March and April.

“We will have to move towards more restrictions, like those we have seen in Bouches-du-Rhône [the département containing Marseille] and Paris and its suburbs,” Macron said.

EXPLAINED: How does France's Covid-19 alert system work?

Macron could be setting the scene for what will happen on Thursday evening, when Health Minister Olivier Véran will hold his weekly update on the general Covid-19 situation in the country.

Currently, Paris and its surrounding suburbs as well as the Marseille metropole are the only areas of mainland France on “maximum alert”.

But the government has warned that cities such as Lille, Grenoble and Lyon were on the brink of following suit if the Covid-19 situation continued to deteriorate.

IN DETAIL: The new Covid-19 restrictions to be enforced in Paris

Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne 
 
The numbers health authorities anxiously watch are the pressure on hospitals' intensive care units, the number of elderly contracting the virus and the overall infection rate in an area.
 
In the greater Paris region Ile-de-France, regional health authority ARS-Ile-de-France on Thursday activated their emergency plan blanc (white plan), to “mobilise all resources” in the coming days, after warning about a mounting pressure on their intensive care units. Paris previously reported having filled 36 percent of its regional intensive care capacity with Covid-19 patients, expecting it to reach 50 percent in less than a fortnight.

 
Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne on Wednesday were all approaching or had surpassed the thresholds set by the government to be set on “maximum alert”, according to French media.
 
In Lyon, the incidence rate was 245, meaning the city was reporting 245 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants – slightly less than the government's established threshold of 250. However, the incidence rate among elderly was higher than set limit of 100, reaching 145 on Wednesday.
 
French media reported that the intensive care unit capacity in Lyon also had surpassed the government's threshold of 30 percent, which meant more than 30 percent of the intensive care beds in the hospitals in the area were occupied by Covid-19 patients.
 
 
In Lille, the general incidence rate was 295 on Wednesday and as high as 270 among the elderly, while the intensive care unit limit approaching the 30 percent capacity limit.
 
Saint-Etienne and Grenoble were seeing similar numbers, both cities surpassed the thresholds set to become “maximum alert” zones, according to French media.
 
What about Toulouse?
 
 
Toulouse also featured among the cities in danger of becoming a “maximum alert” zone, according to the health minister. However, there seems to have been a lag in reporting the latest Covid-19 numbers, according to local media.
 
The latest numbers in Toulouse date back to September 30th, when the incidence rate in the city was 260.97. Among the elderly, the rate had surpassed the threshold of 100, but local health authorities did not provide an exact number. The same was the case for the intensive care unit capacity. 
 
According to Santé Publique France's daily updated interactive map, the Haute-Garonne département, home to Toulouse, counted 33 patients in intensive care units on Wednesday, down from 52 on October 4th. We do not know how many total intensive care beds hospitals in the area have at their disposal, but at the height of the pandemic in early April the département counted 108 intensive care patients.
 
The Local will follow the health minister's announcements tonight and update here.
 
While Wednesday's record spike in cases was not good news, health experts have warned against comparing current case numbers to those during the height of the pandemic this spring, when France did not mass-test the population and masses of cases went undetected.
 
The test positivity rate – the number of test that brought back a positive result – continued to rise and reached 9.1 percent (it was less than 2 percent in early August). However, this number too should be cautiously interpreted as the government has urged only those with good reason to think that they could have Covid-19 to get tested, in a bid to ease the high pressure on laboratories and testing centres.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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