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ANALYSIS: Will France’s fourth wave of Covid really ‘ruin’ the summer holidays?

ANALYSIS: Will France's fourth wave of Covid really 'ruin' the summer holidays?
A patient is tested for a rare Covid variant in the Bacalan neighbourhood of Bordeaux, on May 23, 2021. Photo: Philippe LOPEZ / AFP.
A fourth wave of Covid in France - driven by the delta variant - seems inevitable, but when will it hit, how bad will it be and will there be another lockdown? Martin Greenacre has been gathering some expert opinions.

Across the Channel in the UK Covid cases are rising sharply. In France numbers remain low but the past week has seen what appears to be the beginning of a plateau.

On Friday, health minister Olivier Véran warned that the delta variant could “ruin the holidays”.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccine centre in Hauts-de-Seine, Véran said there was “a danger the epidemic could take off again from this summer”, and urged the population to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Véran also announced that, from Monday, July 5th, people living in France will be able to book their first and second dose in different vaccination centres using Doctolib, to allow people to receive one or both jabs while on holiday.

Jean-François Delfraissy, head of France’s Scientific Council, was blunt in his assessment: “We will have a fourth wave,” he told France Inter. “But it will be less severe than the first three.”

The delta variant of Covid, first identified in India, now accounts for 20 percent of all cases in France, up from 10 percent one week ago and 2-4 percent two weeks ago, and has caused one area in south west France to delay lifting its health restrictions.

So when can we expect the fourth wave and exactly how worried do we need to be about it, given the ever-increasing vaccination rates?

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See also on The Local:

The above graph from Le Parisien journalist Nicolas Berrod shows how cases in France, after a steep fall, have begun to plateau. On Wednesday, 2,457 new cases were recorded

“We’re almost sure we’ll have a fourth wave,” Pascal Crépey, an epidemiologist at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique, told The Local.

“Because we are seeing clusters of the delta variant in all French regions, from Brittany to the Grand Est, but also in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France.

“And because we know clusters are just the tip of the iceberg, it’s a given that at one point the delta variant will overtake circulation of the previous variant.”

While the warmer weather and upcoming school closures could help to keep infections under control this summer, “the population needs to be reminded that the war against coronavirus is not over yet,” Crépey said.

Autumn expectations

“It’s difficult to know at the moment if the beginning of the new wave has started in some areas, or will start in the coming weeks, or if it will be delayed until September,” added Crépey.

Despite Véran’s predictions for the summer, epidemiologist and member of the scientist council Arnaud Fontanet told BFMTV on Wednesday he expected a fourth wave to strike in September or October.

“With double-dose vaccines which protect against 95 percent of hospitalisations, there is a very simple way to make sure the fourth wave does not put a strain on hospitals and lead to deaths,” Fontanet said.

READ ALSO: What lies behind the slowing of vaccination rates in France?

The government is hoping to fully vaccinate 35 million people by the end of the summer, but in recent weeks the number of people receiving a first dose has fallen dramatically, and the country is unlikely to reach the 80 percent coverage experts believe is necessary to bring an end to the pandemic before the autumn.

READ ALSO How worried should we be about France’s slowing of first-vaccine rates?

“My message is simple: get vaccinated if you aren’t already, and above all, try to have both injections before September,” Delfraissy told France Inter.

“We are seeing a progressive increase in hospitalisations [in England and Scotland]. But who are we seeing? We’re seeing people who haven’t been vaccinated, or who have had just one vaccination.

“We will be done with it once 100 percent of the population have been vaccinated or infected – probably in 2022.”

READ ALSO: France steps up Covid monitoring as Delta variant spreads

“The keys are in the authorities’ hands,” Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist and professor of public health at the University of Geneva, told The Local.

He said France needed to triple its sequencing capacity – the genetic screening of test results that shows which variant a patient is infected with – from 3,700 per week to 10,000, in order to sequence every person testing positive, allowing health authorities to identify variants and break chains of transmission.

“If the authorities are able to do that, they could be in a similar position to Japan, where daily cases don’t surpass 6,000 at their peak… Otherwise, we’ll see a large rise in infections like in the UK,” he predicted.

A return to restrictions?

What does this all mean for health restrictions?

In the UK, the widespread vaccination has somewhat broken the link between new cases and hospitalisations, although hospitalisations are still rising.

While it seems unlikely that France will return to strict lockdowns, that doesn’t mean authorities will be happy to let the virus circulate without imposing any restrictions.

“If hospitals get patients at a slower rate, then it’s possible the health authorities will take some time to take measures, so incidents in lower age groups may become higher than we’ve seen so far,” Crépey said.

“We know 10 to 30 percent of symptomatic cases get long Covid, and post-Covid syndromes which keep some symptoms for three to six months, and so the health burden of that is still unknown and may become an even bigger problem than it is right now.”

Modelling from the Pasteur Institute published on Tuesday found that, in a scenario where only 30 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds are vaccinated, an absence of health restrictions could lead to “a spike in hospitalisations like the spike in autumn 2020”.

The report, published on Tuesday, suggested schools could be subject to greater restrictions than the adult population if there is pressure on hospitals from September.

Tougher travel restrictions are already being suggested for countries such as the UK where case numbers are rising.

The UK is currently on France’s orange travel list due to rising case numbers, meaning unvaccinated people can only travel for essential reasons and must quarantine for seven days on arrival. Delfraissy said it was “already too late” to limit travel further, since the delta variant is already progressing in France.

READ ALSO How does France’s traffic light travel system work?

However, not all experts agree.

“It’s never too late,” Flahault said, in reference to countries where new variants are circulating.

“I think it’s best to impose a strict quarantine, even on those who are vaccinated, because we know that vaccinated people can carry the virus.”


Member comments

  1. Fourth wave is coming – there’s no way we can avoid it.

    The question is – what kind of lockdown is justifiable when a large chunk of the population is vaccinated? Hopefully something like in Germany where curfew didn’t apply for those vaccinated.

  2. Okay, you go first. Get sick with Covid, take it and let us know how it goes for you. Not even Trump who touted it as a miracle drug last year took it…and he still got vaccinated in January after getting the virus. You know if it actually worked he would be telling everyone he was right. You honestly think countries across the world ruined their economies for a year in order to push vaccines? Is the earth flat also?

  3. @Me, agree. The conspiracy theories are absurd around COVID-19 and vaccines. Who stands to gain from all the countries whose economies have been tanked? Unfortunately Hydroxychloroquine is still being pushed by social media and conservative publications, while the WHO has dismissed it.

  4. Futurix. There are a very large number of studies showing it is extremely effective. There is also great deal of real world evidence as well. There are some financed by pharmaceutical companies trying to show the opposite as with Hydroxychloroquine. As it is cheap and safe it should be tried. WHY NOT?

  5. Cheap and completely useless against COVID-19 – with an ever-increasing number of studies proving that.

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