When French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France would lift lockdown on December 15th, he said this would only happen if the country’s Covid-19 levels were low enough.
“If we have reached around 5,000 new cases per day and around 2,500 to 3,000 people in intensive care . . . lockdown can be lifted,” Macron said.
France imposed a second lockdown on October 30th when the country’s hospitals found themselves on the verge of becoming overwhelmed with critically ill patients for a second time this year, after the Covid-19 epidemic exploded across the country.
The lockdown effectively halted the spread, causing case numbers, hospital patient numbers, intensive care patient numbers and, more recently, death tolls to drop.
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Daily numbers of new cases tend to fluctuate, and usually drop sharply at weekends and on Mondays, but a weekly average of new cases shows a clear trend – on December 2nd, the average number of cases over the previous seven days was 10,965, on November 25th, it was 16,723 and the week before – November 18th – the weekly average was 29,585.
The R rate on Wednesday had dropped down to 0.56, which means 10 new Covid-19 positives will infect 5 to 6 other people on average, implying an overall shrinking disease across France.
Parisians at a bookstore as non-essential shops were allowed to reopen on November 28th. Photo: AFP
What about intensive care patients?
France's intensive care patient numbers began to decrease about two weeks into lockdown.
Due to improvements in treatment of the virus, the total number of intensive care patients peaked at a lower level than during the first wave of the virus – around 5,000 patients compared to 7,000 back in early April – despite the total number of hospital patients reaching a higher level than this spring.
On December 2nd, France counted 3,488 total patients in intensive care wards – 117 less than the day before.
The most telling of stats (imho) is the C19 population in intensive care. In the last week, that has fallen from 4,509 to 3,883. Total hospital cases have fallen from 33,231 to 28,648.
The positive rate for tests is 11.7% compared to 15% last week and over 20% 2 weeks ago.
— John Lichfield (@john_lichfield) November 28, 2020
If the current trend continues, France will reach its goal of less than 3,000 total intensive care patients on December 15th, according to French data scientist Guillaume Rozier, who daily crunches Covid-19 numbers for his site Covid Tracker. see graphic below).
— GRZ – CovidTracker (@GuillaumeRozier) November 28, 2020
The percentage of intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients – another key indicator into how the health system is coping – has also shown a slow steady drop, from near total capacity when lockdown was imposed to 68.8 percent on Tuesday.
Death rates are not one of the indicators that lifting lockdown depends on, but these too have begun to fall, albeit slowly. France recorded 310 Covid-19 deaths on December 2nd, down from 384 the week before.
A recent resurgence?
But on Saturday, November 28th, France relaxed lockdown rules somewhat, letting non-essential shops reopen and permitting individual trips outside for exercise for up to three hours a day and within 20 kilometres of the home.
“It is possible that the virus will slow down less quickly due to this relaxation, and that we may not reach the goal by December 15th,” Flahault said, “but we would if things stayed the way they are today.”
Customers with protective face masks queue up outside a clothing shop in Cabries, southeastern France, on November 28th. Photo: AFP
Daniel Camus, a professor at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, one of the foremost French research institutes studying the pandemic, told The Local he worried about the recent rise of the number of daily cases.
“Five thousand is not an unrealistic number, but it all depends on the French,” he said.
It could be a blip, but it could also be the sign that the virus was spreading with increased pace, Camus said, adding that the next few days would be crucial for determining whether the spike was just a one-off or a trend.
“We are in a period of uncertainty,” he said, “we will know more on Saturday.”
“We are seeing clearly that some are behaving in a risky way,” he said, referring to the masses gathering in Paris and other cities last Saturday to protest a new security law, and to media reports showing crowds queuing as shops reopened.
“The virus is still circulating at a very high level. If we let go now, we risk a resurgence,” he said.