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HEALTH

Why France is approaching ‘key week’ in controlling spread of Covid variants

France is approaching the 'key weeks' in determining whether the country will be hit by a fresh wave of Covid cases caused by new variants, says the health minister.

Why France is approaching 'key week' in controlling spread of Covid variants
Hospitals in France are still under high pressure from Covid-19 patients. Photo: AFP

Speaking during the regular Thursday evening health briefing, Olivier Véran said “this is no time to relax” adding that the next couple of weeks would be key in determining whether the existing restrictions are enough to contain the spread of the new variants.

He also announced that France's quarantine period is extended from 7 days to 10 over fears that patients with the new variants remain contagious for longer.

 

The percentage of Covid patients in France who are diagnosed with new variants is steadily increasing – overall 36 percent of cases in France are of the UK variant, while the South African and Brazilian variants account for another five percent.

Modelling in the middle of January predicted that the UK variant of the virus would become dominant by 'late February to mid March', which seems to be borne out by the steady increase – from 25 percent last week to 36 percent this week.

The national figure also hides large regional variations – in the greater Paris Île-de-France region already more than half of cases are variants, whereas in the eastern département of Moselle 30 percent of cases are the South African or Brazilian variants.

High case numbers are also causing concern in Nice, a city the minister will visit on Saturday to consult with local health authorities.

Experts fear that once the variants become dominant, France's existing restrictions – including a 6pm curfew and the closure of all bars, restaurants, cafés, museums, theatres and cinemas – will no longer be enough to contain the spread.

However, overall the number of cases in France is showing a slight but steady decrease.

 

The daily average of new cases has fallen from 20,000 last week to 18,000 this week, and the overall fall in cases is seen even in areas like Moselle and Île-de-France that have a high percentage of variants.

How to explain the apparent contradiction?

“Honesty obliges me to tell you that for the moment we do not know how to explain it,” said Véran on Thursday.

He added that he had been in close touch with his counterparts in other European countries, many of whom are seeing similar patterns and who also lack an explanation.

Ever since the emergence of the UK variant in late December, followed by the South African and Brazilian variants, French health chiefs have been worried that France would see a similar explosion of cases and deaths as seen in the UK in December and January.

It was fear of the variants that was the driving force behind discussions of a third lockdown in France, which has for the moment been decided against, although some experts still argue that it is necessary.

At present the government describes the situation in France as “fragile” but no new restrictions are expected before the school holidays end on March 8th.

Véran added that currently “each week, Covid takes as many victims as road crashes do in a year”.

Member comments

  1. It would help the very worrisome situation in Nice if we had some vaccines! We have been given no information on when shipments of vaccines will arrive and how many doses, nor a realistic timetable for rollout to people 65-75 years old. I hope our urgent need for vaccines is conveyed in the strongest terms to M. Véran when he visits tomorrow.

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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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