Covid cases in France surge to highest level since November

France recorded its highest daily number of coronavirus cases in nearly four months on Wednesday, with the hard-hit Paris region bracing for a possible weekend lockdown to stem the rising tide of cases.

Covid cases in France surge to highest level since November
Medical staff carry a patient infected with Covid-19 from a medical plane to an helicopter as part of a transfer from Nice, where intensive care units are overloaded with Covid-19 patients, on March 16th. Photo: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

In the past 24 hours, 38,501 new infections were registered, up from 29,975 the day before, and the highest number since November, the public health authority said.

The “positivity” rate – the proportion of positive results compared to the number of tests carried out overall – remained stable at 7.5 percent, but the number of people in intensive care declined slightly to 4,219, the data showed.

The Île-de-France region, which includes Paris, accounted for more than a quarter of those intensive care cases.

The number of deaths from Covid-19 over the past 24 hours in France as a whole stood at 246, bringing the country’s overall total to 91,427.

The weekly average of daily new Covid cases has increased by 14.2 percent in one week on a national level, up from around 21,000 last week to over 24,000 this week, according to CovidTracker.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jean Castex had said that new restrictions could be put in place for the Paris region, such as the weekend lockdowns already imposed in the Nice and Calais regions.

“We are in a worrying and critical situation and, clearly, measures of the type that have been used in other parts of the territory are on the table,” Castex said.

The dramatic spike in cases on Wednesday could strengthen the case for a new lockdown, even if schools are likely to remain open, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said following a cabinet meeting.

Castex is scheduled to reveal the details of the new measures on Thursday.

On a visit to hospital outside Paris on Wednesday, President Emmanuel Macron said any new measures would be “proportionate” and be made on a territorial basis.

“We will take the decisions that need to be taken,” he said.

France is currently trying to ramp up its vaccination campaign, despite the temporary suspension of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca jab pending a ruling on Thursday by the European Medicines Agency on its possible side effects.

In all, just over 5.5 million people in France have had at least one vaccine shot and nearly 2.4 million have received both doses, official data show.

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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.