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ANALYSIS: Will France reach its Covid-19 goals to ease lockdown in December?

With less than two weeks to go, is France on the right track to reach its Covid-19 targets for easing lockdown?

ANALYSIS: Will France reach its Covid-19 goals to ease lockdown in December?
Parisians check out the window display outside the Galeries Lafayette departmentstore in the capital on November 28th, the day France eased lockdown somewhat and allowed non-essential stores to reopen

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.

MAP: How France’s Covid-19 second wave exploded in just a month

The lockdown effectively halted the spread, causing case numbers, hospital patient numbers, intensive care patient numbers and, more recently, death tolls to drop. 

But daily case numbers remain above 5,000 – on Wednesday evening French health authorities reported 14,064 new Covid-19 positives – and Macron was clear that, when deciding on whether or not to lift the lockdown as planned on the 15th, reducing the number of new positives to 5,000 per day would be key.
 
 
 
Hospital workers in France transfer a Covid-19 patient from one hospital to another. Photo: AFP
 
Will France reach its goal of 5,000 cases?
 
“We are on the right track,” epidemiologist Antoine Flahault told The Local. 
 
Flahault is the Director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva, which monitors the development of Covid-19 closely in the world.
 
While he stressed that their models could not predict events too far ahead in the future – even December 15th was “too far ahead to be precise” – he also said that, if the current trend persisted, France “should arrive below 5,000” new cases per day in time.
 
Latest cases data
 
In late October, at the peak of the second wave of the virus, France recorded roughly 50,000 new Covid-19 cases each day on average.
 
Last week that number had dropped to around 12,000 on average. The steep decrease was proof that the lockdown, even the more relaxed version imposed this autumn, was effective, health authorities concluded.

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.

 

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).

 

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.”

The President of the Scientific Council which advises the government on its Covid-19 strategies, Jean-François Delfraissy, told Le Monde late in November that he thought the country would reach the goal of 5,000 cases per day “after Christmas, or early January”.
 

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.”

Camus said there was a “real risk” that relaxing the lockdown rules could provoke a third wave of infections.

“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.

 
 
 

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TRAVEL NEWS

France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents

Injuries and even deaths while skiing in France have seen a sharp rise in recent years - leading the French government to create a new ski safety campaign.

France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents

The early part of the ski season in France was dominated by headlines over the lack of snow in popular mountain resorts – but, now that climatic conditions have started to improve for skiers and there is at least some snow, the winter sports season is in gearing up to hit full swing.

READ ALSO Snow latest: Have France’s ski resorts reopened?

Heading into the winter holiday season – French schools in ‘Zone A’ break up for two weeks on February 4th, followed on February 11th by schools in ‘Zone B’, while schools in Zone C finish for the vacation on February 18th – the government has launched an awareness campaign highlighting skiing good practice and how to avoid accidents.

READ ALSO What can I do if I’ve booked a French skiing holiday and there’s no snow?

The Pratiquer l’hiver campaign has advice, posters and videos highlighting safety on the slopes, in an effort to reduce the number of accidents on France’s mountains – where, every year, between 42,000 and 51,000 people have to be rescued, according to the Système National d’Observation de la Sécurité en Montagne (SNOSM)

The campaign, with information in a number of languages including English, covers:

  • on-piste and off-piste safety advice (signalling, avalanche risks, freestyle areas, snowshoes, ski touring, etc.);
  • Help and instructions for children explained in a fun and educational way (educational games, games of the 7 families to be cut out, safety quizzes, advice sheets for sledding, skiing, prevention clips, etc.);
  • physical preparation (warm up before exercise, prepare your muscles and stretch well, also how to adapt the choice of pistes and the speed to your physical condition);
  • equipment and safety (helmet, goggles, sunscreen, etc.);
  • marking and signalling on the slopes (opening and marking of green, blue, red and black slopes, off-piste).

There are 220 ski resorts in France, the world’s second largest ski area, covering more than 26,500 hectares of land, across 30 departements.

In the 2021/22 ski season, totalling 53.9 million ‘ski days’, according to SNOSM, emergency services made 49,622 interventions in France’s ski areas, and 45,985 victims were treated for injuries.

The results show an increase in the number of interventions by ski safety services – a rise of 13 percent compared to the average of the five years prior to the pandemic – and the number of injured, up 8 percent. 

A few incidents on the slopes made the headlines at the time, including the five-year-old British girl who died after an adult skier crashed into her in the Alpine resort of Flaine, and the French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who died at the age of 37 after an accident while skiing in La Rosière, Savoie.

In total, 12 people died as a result of skiing incidents in France in the 2021/22 ski season. Three died following collisions between skiers, two after hitting an obstacle, and seven as a result of a fall or solo injuries. SNOSM also reported “a significant number of non-traumatic deaths, mostly due to cardiac problems” on France’s ski slopes.

The injuries due to solo falls – which represent 95 percent of all injuries –  on the ski slopes increased 2 percent compared to winter 2018/2019. Collisions between users fell, however (4.8 percent against . 5.6 percent) as did collisions between skiers and other people, and obstacles (0.7 percent compared to 0.85 percent).

The number of fatalities caused by avalanches, however, is at a historic low over the period 2011 to 2021, in part because of a relative lack of snow – leading to a drop in the number of avalanches and fewer people going off-piste, while awareness campaigns are hitting their mark, according to SNOSM.

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