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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Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

France has begun a trial in eight areas of a smartphone version of the 'carte vitale' - the card required to access the French public health system - with the eventual aim of rolling out the app across the country. Here's how it will work.

Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

What is happening?

France is making changes to the carte vitale – the crucial card that allows residents of France to access the public health system. If you don’t have the card – here’s how to get it.

The new project involves replacing the physical card with a virtual one that is stored on your smartphone via an app.

The French government is beginning a pilot project in eight départements with the intention of expanding the system to cover the whole country in 2023.

The trial areas are; Bas-Rhin, Loire-Atlantique, Puy-de-Dôme, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe, Seine-Maritime, Rhône and Alpes-Maritimes and the trials are voluntary for people who want to sign up. 

How does it work?

At present, the app is only available to those living in the trial areas mentioned above, and it can only be used by people who are already registered in the French system and have a carte vitale. It is not an alternative to the current registration process. 

If you have a carte vitale, however, you can transfer it onto your phone, which saves you having to remember to carry your card around.

You first download the app MonCV and then begin the sign-up process. In order to do this you will need your current card and social security number and will also have to go through a series of security steps including uploading a scan of your passport or ID card and then making a ‘short film’ of your face in order to verify your identity. 

Once registered, you can then use it at the doctor, pharmacist, vaccine centre or any other situation in which you previously used your carte vitale. You will be able to either show a QR code to scan, or scan your phone using NFC technology (similar to Metro and train smartphone tickets, which works even if your phone is turned off or out of battery).

Can you still use a card version?

Yes. If you don’t own a smartphone or are just not a fan of apps you can continue to use the physical card with no changes.

What does this change for healthcare access?

It doesn’t change anything in terms of your access to healthcare or paying for it, but some extra functions are set to be added to the app once the scheme is rolled out nationwide.

The first one is to link up your carte vitale with your mutuelle (complementary insurance) if you have it, so you don’t need to show extra proof from your insurance company in order to get full reimbursement.

The second is to add a ‘trusted person’ to your carte vitale, allowing them to use your card to, for example, pick up a prescription for you or to allow grandparents to take children to medical appointments (normally children are included on their parents’ card). 

Is this replacing the biometric carte vitale? 

You might remember talk earlier this year of a ‘biometric’ carte vitale, in which people would have to register biometric details such as their fingerprints in order to keep using their carte vitale.

This seems to have now been kicked into the long grass – it was a parliamentary amendment to a bill proposed by the centre-right Les Républicains party and was intended to combat prescription fraud.

Experts within the sector say that the costs and inconvenience of making everyone register their biometric details and get a new card far outweigh the costs of prescription fraud and the idea seems to have been put on the back burner for now.