MAP: Which départements are France’s Covid variant hotspots?

The increasing circulation of new variants of Covid is worrying French health authorities, who have now released their most detailed data to date on where the variants are most prevalent.

MAP: Which départements are France's Covid variant hotspots?
Photo: AFP

Previous tracking of variants relied on flash surveys that screened a small proportion of positive Covid tests and extrapolated the results to wider areas.

However French testing laboratories are now rolling out a 'test multiplex' – which tests for traditional Covid and new variants at the same time.

Currently 50 percent of tests are screened using this new technique and the aim is to get to 100 percent as quickly as possible.

This has enabled public health body Santé Publique France to release its first detailed, département-by-département breakdown of variants, based on the new testing technique.

Nationally the UK variant of the virus accounts for 36 percent of all cases, with the South African and Brazilian variants accounting for five percent of cases.

However this hides wide regional variations. 

UK variant

There are 10 départements showing more than 50 percent of cases as the UK variant, among them the Nord département which contains Dunkerque and several départements popular with British people including Vienne in west France and parts of Brittany.

Vienne's MP Sacha Houlié told Le Parisien: “It's not necessarily a surprise, we have a large immigrant community from Great Britain in the south of the départment. On the other hand, there is currently no major outbreak of infections.”

Younger people accounted for the highest percentage of cases, with 44.6 percent of cases in the 0-9 age group being the UK variant, 39.7 percent in the 10-19, 37.1 in the 20-29  and 40.8 in the 30-39 age group, falling to 20.3 percent in the over 90s.

Several flash surveys had indicated high levels of variants in the greater Paris Île-de-France region, but the more detailed survey shows only average levels of the UK variant in Paris and its suburbs.

The areas with the high levels of variants do not necessarily correspond with places that have a lot of cases – the southern city of Nice which has seen worryingly high case numbers and great pressure on local hospitals has only average levels of the UK variant and low levels of the South African and Brazilian variants.

The départements of Lozère and Corse-de-Sud are not included in Santé Publique France's data set, apparently due to a low number of tests meaning there is not enough meaningful data.


South African and Brazilian variants

These represent a much lower percentage and many cases – such as a cluster of cases in the south west département of Dordogne, have been traced to travel or a specific cluster.


However the eastern département of Moselle has reported a high level of cases – 300 in a single week – which local officials say they cannot trace to a cluster.

In general the north east départements of France running along the Belgian and German borders have seen high levels of the South African and Brazilian variants.






Member comments

  1. How can the MP blame the British for bringing in the UK variant when we are not allowed to travel back to England

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.