French health minister warns of ‘fourth wave of Covid by end of July’

France's health minister Olivier Véran has warned that the country could be facing a fourth wave of Covid cases by the end of July, driven by the delta variant which is causing a big spike in cases in the UK.

French health minister warns of 'fourth wave of Covid by end of July'
Health minister Olivier Véran. Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

Covid cases in France have been tumbling since the end of May, but Sunday marked the fifth day in a row where numbers did not fall, prompting the health minister to issue a stark warning – not only is a fourth wave of cases inevitable, it could be here by the end of July.

Véran wrote on Twitter: “For the last five days, the virus has not decreased, it is increasing, due to the delta variant which is very contagious.

“The English example shows that a wave is possible from the end of July. We can limit it and limit the impact with health measures, vaccinations and test and trace.”

Cases in France now stand at an average of 2,500 a day – much lower than in the UK which is now over 10,000 per day, but growing.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Monday that the delta variant now accounts for 30 percent of all cases, up from 20 percent just a week ago.

Data from France shows that case numbers have plateaued or are rising in all age groups, although the rise is highest in the 20-29 year-old group. Cases are also rising in the 10-19 and 30-39 age groups.

Vaccination is now open to all over 12s, but younger age groups are less likely to be fully vaccinated since they became eligible later in the programme.

Among the 70 plus age groups, which have the highest percentage of fully vaccinated people, case numbers show no rise, as shown in the chart below by Le Parisien journalist Nicolas Berrod.

The delta variant, first identified in India, has been driving a big wave of cases in the UK, and experts had warned that the same would happen in France, although earlier predictions has focused on the end of August or September.

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

However over the weekend the Elysée said the focus had shifted from “saving la rentrée [the return to work in September] to saving the summer”.

Most health restrictions in France have already been lifted, although masks remain compulsory in all indoor public spaces and some outdoor spaces.

Local authorities have the power to impose tighter restrictions although so far only one area – Landes in south west France – has done so.

Data from the UK, which has a greater percentage of the population vaccinated than France, shows a rapid climb in case numbers, but a much slower climb in hospitalisations with Covid. The below chart compares the rates of cases and hospitalises in the UK (with different scales) through the second, third and fourth waves.

However hospital numbers are rising, and experts have warned about other effects of Covid such as ‘long Covid’ that produces symptoms such as extreme fatigue and breathlessness in a minority of patients and can continue for many months.

There are also fears than uncontrolled spread of the virus can create conditions for other variants to develop, possibly ones that vaccines are less effective against.

As rates for first vaccination appointments begin to slow in France with the population heading off on holiday, the government has unveiled a package of measures that will make it easier to get the vaccine even if people are away from home.

READ ALSO Can I get vaccinated if I am on holiday in France?

Member comments

  1. This really should not come as a shock to anyone. Come September it will be back to where it was at the beginning of the year. Governments are to quick lifting restrictions because of the start of the holiday season. Perhaps if they had kept the restrictions over July and August we wouldn’t be experiencing a repeat of what happened last year.

    1. By autumn more than half of Germany will be fully vaccinated – so the situation will be very different.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

An investigation has revealed that tap water supplied to some 12 million people in France was sometimes contaminated with high levels of pesticides last year.

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

Data from regional health agencies, and collated by Le Monde, found that supplies to about 20 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent the year previously, failed to consistently meet regional quality standards. 

The study highlighted regional differences in tap water quality. Hauts-de-France water was the most likely to be affected, with 65 percent of the population there drinking water contaminated by unacceptable pesticide levels. In Brittany, that level fell to 43 percent; 25.5 percent in the Grand-Est, and 25 percent in the Pays de la Loire.

Occitanie, in southwest France, meanwhile, showed the lowest level of non-compliance with standards, with just 5.1 percent of the region’s population affected by high pesticide levels in their tap water. However, figures show that 71 percent of people in one département in the region, Gers, were supplied with water containing high levels of pesticides.

Regional discrepancies in testing, including what chemicals are tested for, mean that results and standards are not uniform across France. Tap water in Haute-Corse is tested for 24 pesticide molecules; in Hauts-de-Seine, that figure rises to 477. 

One reason for regional testing standards are differences in local agricultural requirements.

Part of the increase in the year-on-year number of households supplied with affected water may also be explained by the fact that tests in many regions now seek to trace more molecules, Le Monde noted.

Water quality standards in France are strict – with a limit for pesticide residues set at 0.1 microgramme per litre, so the “high” levels found in tap water supplies may not represent a danger to health.

The question of the level of health risk to humans, therefore, remains unclear. The Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) has not defined a maximum safety level for 23 pesticides or their metabolites. Le Monde cites two metabolites of chloridazone, a herbicide used until 2020 on beet fields, for which only provisional safety levels in tap water have been set. 

Many of these molecules and their long-term effects remain unknown – and “the long-term health effects of exposure to low doses of pesticides are difficult to assess,” admits the Ministry of Health.

Michel Laforcade, former director general of the ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine told Le Monde that health authorities have “failed” on this subject. 

“One day, we will have to give an account,” he said. “It may not be on the same scale as the contaminated blood affair, but it could become the next public health scandal.”

In December 2020, the Direction générale de la santé (DGS) recommended “restricting uses of water” as soon as the 0.1 micrograms per litre quality threshold is exceeded, in cases of residues for which there is no formal maximum health value.

But this principle is not always applied, according to France 2’s Complètement d’enquête programme.

In December 2021, the DGS asked the Haut conseil de la santé publique (HCSP) “for support on the management of health risks associated with the presence of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in water intended for human consumption.”

The HCSP, in response, said that “an active and urgent policy must be implemented to reduce the contamination of resources by pesticides”.