Authority in south west France delays lifting Covid-19 health restrictions amid Delta variant fears

Residents in the south west France will have to wait at least another week before Covid-19 restrictions are lifted amid concern over the spread of the Delta variant of the virus.

Authority in south west France delays lifting Covid-19 health restrictions amid Delta variant fears
French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran visited the Landes last week. Photo: Gaizka Iroz | AFP

On the day the rest of metropolitan France took a fourth step out of lockdown, authorities in the Landes département announced they were maintaining restriction levels in place since June 9th.

The final step sees a number of restrictions lifted around large events and crowds and also passes responsibility back to local authorities on issues such as restrictions for bars, cafés and festivals.

Across France, health trends are going in the right direction, with case numbers and hospitalisations continuing to fall – but the situation has stalled somewhat in the Landes, on the south west Atlantic coast of the country. 

As a result, the Préfet has decided to keep the existing restrictions in place until at least July 6th – depending on the local health situation.

“The situation is stabilised, with an incidence rate which oscillates around 50 cases per 100,00 people.

“It is not particularly serious, but it is particularly atypical compared to the rest of France,”  Préfet Cécile Bigot-Dekeyzer said at a press conference on Wednesday, a week after Prime Minister Jean Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran had visited the department as cases rose.

The recorded incidence rate in the Landes on Tuesday, June 29th was 48 cases per 100,000 residents, according to France’s Covid Tracker website – below the alert threshold of 50, but well above the national average of 19.

Meanwhile, half of the total French population has received a first dose of vaccine. In total, 33.5 million people have received a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, and 22.8 million, or 32.4 percent of the population, are fully vaccinated.

Despite the falling Covid-19 numbers, concern over the spread of the contagious Delta variant remains. It now counts for 20 percent of new cases in France and “is gradually becoming dominant,” warned Véran on Franceinfo on Tuesday.

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

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Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters in France this autumn

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

READ ALSO When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.