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Delta variant: Is France heading for another Covid surge as seen in the UK?

Delta variant: Is France heading for another Covid surge as seen in the UK?
Health minister Olivier Véran, right, has warned of a rise of new variants. Photo: Comme Sittler/AFP
France still has a low number of Covid-19 cases linked to the Delta variant - but this is increasing rapidly with one hotspot already reported in the south west. So is France at risk of another spike in Covid-19 cases just as things are looking good on the epidemic front?

The French health minister and prime minister have announced a seven-day ‘plan of attack’ for the south west département of Landes, which has seen a surge in cases of the Delta variant of Covid.

On a visit to the area on Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced deliveries of extra vaccines and self-tests and said that restrictions on shops in the area could be tightened if the situation does not improve.

Cases in Landes now show a 70 percent presence of the Delta variant and the département has gone back over the alert level of 50 new cases per 100,000 people, the only département in France to be at alert level.

It comes as cases in the UK again break the 10,000 per day mark and British prime minister Boris Johnson was forced to delay the final easing of restrictions for another month.

So could France experience a similar spike in a few weeks time, just as the summer holiday season gets underway?

How are things in France right now?

Overall, pretty good with all the key data moving in the right direction.

Case numbers and hospital numbers continue to fall sharply and for the first time since August 2020 the national incidence level (cases per 100,000 of the population) is below 50.

France has just reached phase 3 of its reopening plan with bars, restaurants and cafés reopening their indoor spaces and curfew moving back to 11pm. If the current trajectory continues the curfew will be scrapped entirely on June 30th and more restrictions will be relaxed.

READ ALSO Curfew, gyms, cafés and work – what are the rules in France right now?

So that’s the good news.

In less good news, the national percentage of cases of the Delta variant has jumped from 2-4 percent to 9-10 percent in just a week.

In Landes case numbers have begun to rise again, albeit only slightly. The below chart from Le Parisien reporter Nicolas Berrod shows the national incidence rate compared to that of Landes.

And the UK?

Case numbers are starting to climb again despite the UK’s impressive vaccination rate.

The UK is now recording more than 10,000 new cases per day, roughly five times than France’s rate of 2,200 new cases.

The worry is the Delta variant – first discovered in India – which now makes up 90 percent of new cases in the UK and which experts agree is around 40 percent more transmissible than other variants.

It is concerns over this variant that lead the British government to delay the latest phase of lockdown easing – initially scheduled for June 21st – for another four weeks.

Will France follow the UK trend?

This is the worry. France’s third wave of Covid was driven almost entirely by the Alpha variant of Covid, known as the variant anglais in France, which wreaked havoc across the Channel in December and lead to the British government being forced to impose strict rules over Christmas in some areas, and then bring in a third nationwide lockdown for England. 

Naturally, France hopes to avoid importing a second new variant from over La Manche, which is why there are strict conditions on unvaccinated travellers arriving into France from the UK.

There have also been strict limitations in place on travel from India including obligatory quarantine for arrivals – an extra three countries were added to the ‘red list’ of travel bans on Wednesday over Delta concerns. You can find the full rules and restrictions on travel from India HERE.

Health minister Olivier Véran warned last week about the rise of the Delta variant in France.

Speaking on a visit to a vaccine centre in Paris, he said: “You will say that this is still a small number, but that was the situation in England a few weeks ago.”

“We are in the process of beating the virus but we cannot allow the Indian variant to take off and spark another wave of the epidemic,” Véran warned.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Wednesday said: “We see what is happening in the United Kingdom, where there has been a continuous increase in cases for several weeks.

“We can see that things can go very quickly, so you have to be very vigilant. This is why we have set up in France a progressive calendar for lifting restrictions, which we are going through step by step.”

How does France hope to avoid following the UK trend?

Apart from the travel restrictions mentioned above, France is hoping that vaccination, health passports and general vigilance will be the key to avoiding another wave of cases.

Vaccination – France has now given at least one dose of the vaccine to more than 30 million people, 58 percent of its adult population. While this is a good effort, it is still lower than the vaccination rate in the UK – which started faster and has now given a first dose to more than 40 million people or 78 percent of its adult population.

An extra 7,000 vaccine doses will be sent to Landes this week to try and keep cases there under control.

Second doses – are also key with the Delta variant, with research showing that two doses of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines give a good level of protection, but a single dose giving a much lower level, around 33 percent in the case of Pfizer and lower for AstraZeneca.

In the UK almost 30 million people have had both doses, in France this is lower with just 16 million people (29 percent of the adult population) fully vaccinated. 

One factor some experts have pointed to is that most people in France are vaccinated against Covid with the Pfizer jab, which is more effective against the variant than AstraZeneca, which has been far more widely used in the UK.

The French health ministry has also decided to shorten the gap between first and second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, so it is now possible to make a second appointment 3-4 weeks after the first, rather than six weeks. 

France is hoping that opening up its vaccination programme to all adults and to 12-18-year-olds will help stop the spread by targeting younger people who are less likely to develop serious symptoms, but can still spread the virus.

Health restrictions – France is not as far into its reopening programme as the UK and restrictions remain in place. Restrictions could also be tightened in hotspot area, with the PM suggesting extra restrictions on shops in Landes if the situation there does not improve.

Health passports – France also has up and running the health passport scheme, which requires proof of either a vaccination, negative test of recent recovery from Covid to attend larger events such as gigs or sports matches. The health passport was used by the limited crowds attending the recent French Open tennis matches.

READ ALSO Where and when do you need a health passport this summer

Véran is calling on the French people “not to relax (their) collective vigilance”.

“The example of our British neighbours should urge us to be cautious, courageous and show solidarity.”


Member comments

  1. “ If the current trajectory continues the curfew will be scrapped entirely on June 30th and more restrictions will be relaxed”

    This is outdated info, please update. The curfew was eliminated June 21.

  2. So 96% of infections are NOT the Delta variant. Veran’s figures can’t be found on his own Ministry’s website or on Covid tracker as far as I can see. This smacks of scare tactics to get more people to have the jab. Understandable but unhelpful. Strikingly the number of young people vaccinated in France is higher than UK which should help.

    1. Hardly scare tactics – just a fairly rational and forward looking approach.

      Delta variant became dominant in the UK in just one month. It is practically inevitable it will take over everywhere – the question is just how fast (during the summer or in the autumn) and what effect vaccinations will have (preliminary results show that one dose does not protect enough).

      1. I’d be more convinced of that if the national figures backed the statement and if the curfew had not just been lifted. As a former “Spin Doctor” (It takes one to know one) always ask why a message comes out of the blue. Doesn’t alter the fact that people need to act responsibly and ought get vaccinated. In our part of France people generally have, hence infections never got above 130 per 100k since January and now one of the highest vaccination take ups in France.

  3. There is far less traffic between India and France generally, and France was quicker to stop travel from the subcontinent than the UK was. That is why currently there are fewer cases in France. It will come though as the leaky colander of border restrictions still allows too much traffic between the UK and France. The hope is when it does start escalating here we will see the same blend of figures as in the UK, i.e. growing infection rate but lower mortality rate. That is after all what the vaccination campaign is trying to achieve with Covid.

  4. Dear Stephanie, thing is, I’m not an anti vaxer. If you can’t face the truth or educated enough to hear another point of view, then why don’t you take yourself off here? Thank you.

  5. can you provide evidence that the injections are just money making and the fact it, as you say, stuffs up your immune system? Where did you get your data from to support your theories? Did you know you can still get Covid even if vaccinated and still spread it?

  6. Yes I am aware of them and they do some great work, but let’s not forget we should not believe everything we read, people have bias, agendas etc. The UK govt is another story, but to say you should not get vaccinated and carry on as we are is not sustainable, people are not respecting it, even govt officials as we have seen. Whilst the vaccination is not 100% bullet proof, the science data is showing that it is reducing the risks associated with covid and hence the need for hospital ICU care, which again is another story that are health systems are not prepared

  7. Yes, DJ, I can. Read and follow the “Good Law Project”. You’ll notice how many times the UK Gov has been taken to court for money making reasons.
    Of course I know you can still get covid despite being injected. That’s why I’m totally against these so called covid vaccinations, they’re not vaccinations.
    And you’ve just made my point for me, why the hell get the injection if you can still get covid? Where’s the protection of the injection? I can carry on doing what I’m doing now, ie. Social distancing, mask, disinfectant and if God forbid I get covid anyway, I’ll take ivermectin.

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