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MAP: Where in France are Covid rates falling most rapidly?

As Covid-19 case numbers continue to fall in France, by Wednesday no départements were over the threshold set by the government for reopening café terraces and cultural establishments later in May.

MAP: Where in France are Covid rates falling most rapidly?
The reopening of café terraces could be delayed in areas with high case numbers. Photo: AFP / DataWrapper

When the President Emmanuel Macon laid out the timetable to ease Covid restrictions and reclaim, in his words, “our French-style way of life” of enjoying cafés, restaurants, cinemas and museums, he set a few conditions.

“The measures will be national, but we will be able to activate ’emergency brakes’ in areas where the virus is circulating at too high a rate,” Macron said, adding:

“I am confident that the whole of France will be able to move to the May 19th stage”.

But authorities could delay the second phase of reopening in any town or département that recorded 7-day incidence rate of more than 400 new cases per 100,000 people, combined with a sudden jump in rates and intense pressure on local health services.

All of mainland France’s départements had on Wednesday dropped below that threshold, although the numbers included a holiday – Saturday, May 1st – when many test centres were closed.

Just two weeks ago, eight départments – the city of Paris, six of its surrounding départements and the Bouches-du-Rhone département in the south east – had incidence rates over the 400-mark.

The national incidence rate was 224 on Tuesday, down from 289.5 last week.

France is now recording on average 23,500 new Covid cases per day, taken as a seven-day average, down from over 30,000 mid-April and nearly 40,000 in late March.

Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Monday that declining Covid-19 case numbers raised hopes that the country could reopen café terraces and cultural establishments as planned later in May.

“The epidemic (spread) decreases by between 20 and 25 percent per week,” the health minister said during an interview with students at Sciences Po University.

“In 15 days, we should therefore be somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 cases per day,” Véran said, pointing forward to May 19th, the date when the government plans to begin the second phase of reopening closed sectors – if the health situation permits.

IN DETAIL: France’s new calendar for reopening after Covid restrictions

Despite the drop in case numbers, hospitals in many areas remained strained, especially in the greater Paris region Île-de-France, which had an intensive care unit occupancy rate of over 140 percent.

Bouches-du-Rhône, home to France’s second largest town, Marseille, also reported an intensive care unit occupancy level over 100 percent.

National intensive care unit patient numbers – which had been stable at nearly 6,000 since mid-April, more than at the peak of nearly 5,000 patients during the second wave in autumn – began declining slightly before rising again on Monday, reaching a total of 5,630 patients. On Tuesday it dropped to 5,504.

Hospitals chiefs have repeatedly warned that sustaining such a high pressure on hospitals will have severe consequences for the patients in the need of non-Covid medical care.

“There are still too many patients in intensive care to resume a normal rhythm of care,” the health minister told Europe 1 on Tuesday morning, “but in the coming weeks, the number will drop and we will be able to do so.”

In some areas, hospitals have begun to see an improvement, such as in Alpes-Maritimes, the southeastern département of Nice and the French Riviera. Alpes-Maritimes, where the incidence rate had plunged down from 460 to 126 in one month, registered a drop in the pressure on hospital intensive care units down to 83 percent.

In the rest of the country, case levels remained higher in the north and east of the country than in the west, as they had done throughout the pandemic. Sparsely populated central areas and Brittany were less badly affected than other regions.

To Europe 1, Véran also said that he hoped that the face mask – currently compulsory both in all indoor public places and outside in most of French towns and cities – would soon be unnecessary outside.

“I sincerely hope that it will be this summer,” he said, referring to when the government would scrap rules on masks and other health rules such as social distancing.

Five mainland départments reported an incidence rate below 100: Landes in the south west on the coast; Gers, also in the south west, near the city of Toulouse; Finistère in Brittany; Pyrénées-Atlantiques on the Spanish border; and the southern half of Corsica.

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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.