Doctors fear worst of Covid-19 wave still to come in France

In the Covid-19 intensive care unit of the Antony Private Hospital south of Paris, no bed stays free for long and medics wonder when their workload will finally peak.

Doctors fear worst of Covid-19 wave still to come in France
Nurses tend to a Covid-19 patient under respiratory assistance lying unconscious in a room of the intensive care unit of the Hopital Prive hospital in Antony, a southern Paris suburb on April 2, 2021. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

As one recovered elderly patient is being wheeled out of the ward, smiling weakly, boss Jean-Pierre Deyme is on the phone arranging the next arrival and calling out instructions to staff.

Louisa Pinto, a nurse of nearly 20 years’ experience, gestures to the vacated room where a cleaner is already at work, scrubbing down the mattress for the next arrival.

“The bed won’t even have time to cool down,” she says as the patient monitoring system beeps constantly in the background. 

For now, everything is stable in the 20-odd beds around her where Covid-19 victims lie inanimate, in a silent battle with the virus.

Paris is going through a third wave of the pandemic, which risks putting even more strain on saturated hospitals than the first wave in March and April last year.

“With what’s coming in April, it’s going to be very complicated,” says Pinto, a mother of three who hasn’t had a holiday since last summer and like other staff will be cancelling a planned break this month.

Even with a new round of restrictions coming into force this week, Health Minister Olivier Véran predicts that infections in France will peak only in mid-April, while hospital admissions will continue climbing until the end of the month.

READ ALSO: Why the average age of patients in France’s intensive care units is getting younger

Alarming forecasts leaked to the French media from the Paris public hospital authority AP-HP last week showed anywhere from 2,800-4,400 people in intensive care in the Paris region by the end of April even with a strict lockdown. In the first wave, the number peaked at 2,700.

Intensive care capacity is increased but staff shortages threaten healthcare

The director of the Antony hospital, Denis Chandesris, says intensive care capacity has already been increased by drastically reducing all surgery except for critical cancer, cardiological and emergency cases.

Hospitals everywhere in the region have taken similar measures, re-deploying beds and creating new wards, but they are reaching their limits.

“The difficulty is not so much beds or material, it’s a question of finding medical and paramedical staff to be able to take in patients,” Chandesris explained.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: Just how bad is the third Covid wave hitting France compared to previous spikes?

Last Sunday, a group of emergency care directors in Paris warned in an open letter that the situation was so bad that medics would soon have to start “triage” – selecting patients for care based on their chances of survival.

This prospect horrifies staff – and President Emmanuel Macron has always promised to shield hospitals and avoid the sort of scenes witnessed in Italy last March when patients piled up in corridors. 

In a televised speech to the nation on Wednesday night, he promised to increase intensive care capacity nationwide from 7,665 beds currently to 10,000 – a jump of 30 percent.

“I want to thank medical students, retired people, the army health service and medical reserve volunteers. All of them will be mobilised in a larger way,” he announced.

Opposition politicians and some experts reacted with scepticism while an Ifop poll for the Journal du Dimanche weekly found only 35 percent of French people had confidence in their government “to deal effectively with the coronavirus”.

Pinto, the nurse, underlined how working in intensive care is “very technical”, requiring specialised training and knowledge.

French President Emmanuel Macron hopes new lockdown measures will curb the wave of Covid-19 cases. (Photo by BENOIT TESSIER / POOL / AFP)

French PM pins hopes on new restrictions

Macron is banking on a limited lockdown over the next month turning the rising tide of cases, which have roughly doubled to 40,000 a day compared with their level a month ago.

The sharp acceleration is down to the spread of the more contagious so-called British variant which has become dominant in France.

New measures include nationwide travel restrictions, which limit people to 10 kilometres (six miles) from their homes, and the closure of schools and non-essential shops.

Only a significant increase in the vaccination campaign – which started sluggishly but is now picking up pace – fills any of the medics at Antony Private Hospital with any hope.

A medical worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, in France. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP)

After months of lacking doses, the government is promising a major rollout this month and an increase in the rate of jabbing.

Samir Taik, a taxi driver from Paris, walked out of the Antony hospital last week as the 1,000th Covid-19 patient to have benefited from oxygen therapy in the Covid-19 intensive care unit.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: When will you be eligible for the Covid vaccine in France?

The 43-year-old, who enjoys boxing and sport, is still short of breath and reeling from the trauma of seeing his health deteriorate so fast.

He says he knows three or four people with a similar profile to him who have been hospitalised recently.

“Young people need to know that we’re not talking about 80-year-olds, it’s people who are 30, 40, 45-year-olds and have no health problems. The British variant is not like the old one,” he told AFP.

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First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

France reported its first suspected case of monkeypox on Thursday, after cases of the virus were reported in several neighbouring countries.

First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

A first suspected case of monkeypox in France was reported in the Paris area on Thursday, the country’s direction générale de la santé has said, two weeks after a first case of the virus in Europe was discovered in the UK.

Since that first case was reported on May 6th, more than 30 other cases have been confirmed in Spain, Portugal, the UK, Sweden, Canada and the USA.

Here we explain what is known about the viral disease.

Why is it called monkeypox?

The virus was first identified in 1958 in laboratory monkeys – which is where the name comes from – but rodents are now considered the probable main animal host.

It is mainly observed in isolated areas of central and western Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, with the first case in humans reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why is it in the news?

Monkeypox does not usually spread beyond Western and Central Africa. It is the first time, for example, it has been identified in Spain or Portugal.

It is believed the relaxing of Covid-19 travel rules have allowed the virus to spread further than usual.

The first case in the UK was reported on May 6th, in a patient who had recently travelled to Nigeria. But in the eight cases reported since, several had no connection to each other, and none had recently travelled, prompting experts to believe a number of cases have gone unreported.

Scientists are now working to find out if those cases are linked. 

What are the symptoms?

Initially, the infected patient experiences fever, headache, muscle pain, inflammation of the lymph node, backache and severe fatigue. Then pimples appear, first on the face, then in the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. The mucous membranes of the mouth, genitals and cornea may also be affected. 

It has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as similar but less serious than smallpox. In most cases, symptoms disappear in two to three weeks and the patient makes a full recovery.

There are two known strains of the virus: the more severe Congo strain and the West African strain. UK cases reported to date have been the West African strain.

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is most often transmitted to humans by infected rodents or primates through direct contact with blood, body fluids, or skin or mucous membrane lesions of these animals. 

Human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through respiratory droplet particles during prolonged contact. But contamination can come from close contact with skin lesions of an infected individual or from objects, such as bedding, recently contaminated with biological fluids or materials from a patient’s lesions.

More severe cases are related to the length of time patients are exposed to the virus, their state of health, and whether the virus leads to other health complications. 

Young children are more sensitive to this virus.

Can it be treated?

There is no specific treatment or preventive vaccine against monkeypox – and the huge majority of patients recover fully with appropriate care.

Smallpox vaccination was effective in the past at also providing protection from monkeypox, but with that disease considered eradicated, people are no longer vaccinated against it, which has allowed monkeypox to spread once again. 

Should we be worried?

Experts have said that we’re not going to see the virus reach epidemic levels.

“There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission alone can maintain monkeypox in the human population,” the WHO has said.