French government to examine Paris Covid situation as intensive care numbers swell

The French government will review the health situation in the greater Paris region on Wednesday and consider further restrictions, after hospitals were told to cut surgical and medical procedures by 40 percent due to a spike in Covid-19 intensive care patients.

French government to examine Paris Covid situation as intensive care numbers swell
Medical staff tend to a patient at the intensive care unit at the AP-HP Tenon hospital in Paris on January 26th. Photo: Alain JOCARD / AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron and his government will discuss whether to tighten Covid restrictions in the capital and its suburbs on Wednesday, according to media reports on Tuesday morning.

“There will be a review of the situation throughout the country, and in particular Île-de-France,” the health ministry confirmed to AFP.

However public health chief Jérôme Salomon discarded the idea to impose a lockdown in the Paris region as “not on the cards.”

“This is a measure of last resort that would be proposed to the government and the head of State if we were under the impression that hospitals could not cope,” he told French radio RTL on Tuesday.

Health authorities on Monday ordered the region’s hospitals to slash their procedures by 40 percent in response to their intensive care units being at the brink of becoming overwhelmed by Covid patients.

France now has the highest number of intensive care patients since late November. On Monday, 381 new patients were admitted into intensive care wards, putting the total number at 3,849, according to the latest government data.

These patients were younger than they had been since the first wave in the spring of 2020, according to French data scientist Guillaume Rozier. On his CovidTracker Twitter account, Rozier pointed out that 40-59-year-olds now represented the second largest group of intensive care patients, after 60-69-year olds.

The drop in the number of over-80s in intensive care has been attributed to the vaccination campaign, to which they were first in line. 

The number of total hospital patients in France also increased on Monday, by 1,584 over the past 24 hours, adding up to 25,195 Covid patients nationwide. In total 359 deaths were registered in hospitals on Monday.

The greater Paris Île-de-France region, which counts about 12 million inhabitants, currently has 973 Covid patients in intensive care compared with a capacity set aside for virus cases of 1,050, the director-general of the ARS regional health service, Aurelien Rousseau, told AFP.

“This is a very tense situation,” he said.

Since a spike in the number of virus infections two weeks ago, daily admissions into intensive care have been between 70 and 80 patients, but only half that number at most were being discharged, leading to a daily net increase of 35.

At that growth rate, current hospital and clinic Covid capacity will be exhausted as early as this week.

“We needed to react very fast,” said Rousseau, who gave “a firm and immediate order” to cancel 40 percent of scheduled hospital care.

The move will take capacity to 1,577 Covid intensive care spots by next week, he said.

The order comes as the French government has been scrambling to avoid another national lockdown although Covid infections remain stubbornly high.

On Sunday 21,825 new cases were reported in the previous 24 hours and 130 new deaths.

Vaccination centres over the weekend administered 585,000 injections as Prime Minister Jean Castex called for “a national mobilisation” to boost the number of inoculations.

So far France has administered around 5.5 million doses of the three vaccines authorised for use – Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca/Oxford University – according to government figures.

On Monday, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said that weekly vaccine deliveries to France would go above two million doses within two weeks.

This meant that 30 million people – two thirds of the French adult population – could be vaccinated by the end of June, she said.

As the country waits for vaccinations to make a dent in infection statistics, the government has resorted to regional weekend lockdowns, with the latest one affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the north of the country.

There has been speculation about a similar move coming for the greater Paris region, but so far the government has appealed to people to behave responsibly, and police banned the consumption of alcohol outdoors in the capital to try to reduce the crowds gathering to enjoy the spring sunshine.

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Kinder pulls 3,000 tonnes of products after salmonella cases

Children in nine European countries, including 81 in France, were affected

Kinder pulls 3,000 tonnes of products after salmonella cases

More than 3,000 tonnes of Kinder products have been withdrawn from the market over salmonella fears leaving a dent of tens of millions of euros, a company official has told France’s Le Parisien.

Nicolas Neykov, the head of Ferrero France, said the contamination came “from a filter located in a vat for dairy butter”, at a factory in Arlon in Belgium.

He said the contamination could have been caused by humans or raw materials.

Chocolate products made at the factory in Arlon, southeastern Belgium, were found to contain salmonella, resulting in 150 cases in nine European countries.

Eighty-one of these were in France, mainly affecting children under 10 years old.

The factory’s closure and the health concerns were blows to its owner, Italian confectionery giant Ferrero, coming at the height of the Easter holiday season when its Kinder chocolates are sought-after supermarket buys.

“This crisis is heartbreaking. It’s the biggest removal of products in the last 20 years,” Neykov said.

But the company hoped to be able to start up the factory again, with 50 percent of health and safety inspections to be carried out by an approved “external laboratory” in the future, instead of the previous system of only internal reviews.

“We have asked for a reopening from June 13 to relaunch production as soon as possible,” he added.