Tourist areas bear brunt of France’s spike in Covid-19 cases

Covid-19 cases in France have doubled over the course of a week, with infections rising most rapidly in popular tourist areas, government figures reveal.

Tourist areas bear brunt of France's spike in Covid-19 cases
A waiter serves customers as they sit on a cafe terrace in Perpignan, where health restrictions have again been tightened because of a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. Photo: Raymond Roig | AFP

In the 24 hours ending July 18th, 12,532 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed, up from 10,949 on Saturday, July 17th; and 4,256 on Friday, July 16th.

The incidence rate (cases per 100,000 people) has risen above the alert threshold of 50 in 37 departments, notably along popular tourist areas – the southwest and Mediterranean coasts, and in Paris. 


On July 12th, just 12 departments were recording an incidence rate of over 50. Nationally, the incidence rate is also increasing and stood at 63.5 on July 15th, compared to 32.2 on July 9th.

Cases are rising most rapidly in the Pyrénées-Orientales, where the latest Public Health France figures show an incidence rate of 299.6 cases per 100,000, followed by Haute-Corse (249.1), Alpes-Maritimes (133.6), and Charente-Maritime (109).

The rise in cases in coastal areas is not simply due to holidaymakers testing positive, since the incidence rate figures are based on a person’s department of residence, not where they took the Covid test.

READ ALSO: How high are vaccination rates where you live in France?

The spike in cases is linked to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19, and has prompted local authorities to impose new restrictions. 

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal warned on Sunday that: “the Delta variant … is incredibly more contagious, more aggressive than the original strain of the virus”. 

In an interview with Le Parisien, he said: “We have to be clear. Now, the options are either general vaccination or a viral tsunami. There is no alternative.”

In Pyrénées-Orientales, bars and restaurants are required to close at 11pm, and face masks are obligatory outdoors in public areas. These latest local rules are in place until at least August 2nd.

The Pas-de-Calais, Bas-Rhin and Var départements have also reinstated the obligation to wear a mask in busy outdoor areas such as markets and pedestrian streets.

Plans to extend the remit of the pass sanitaire – to include cinemas, theatres and museums as well as bars, cafés, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and for long-distance travel by coach and train – will be debated in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

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France’s Omicron wave fuels soaring sales of FFP2 masks

Sales of the heavy-duty FFP2 masks have been soaring in France as the highly-contagious Omicron variant of Covid continues to spread.

France's Omicron wave fuels soaring sales of FFP2 masks
A health worker puts on an FFP2 mask. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

With more than 300,000 new cases recorded in the last 24-hours by Santé Publique France and the return of the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors in many cities, the French are increasingly adopting the heavy-duty FFP2 mask.

The supermarket chain Carrefour has been selling them since February 2021, but supermarket bosses said weekly sales had jumped from 100,000 to 300,000 in the last few weeks, with 55,000 sold in just one day on January 3rd – the day many French people went back to work.

FFP2 masks, previously recommended only for health workers, offer more efficient protection for both the wearer those around them and also has the advantage of being wearable for up to eight hours in a row – as opposed to surgical masks which are supposed to  be changed every four hours.

However, in addition to being almost five times more expensive than a surgical mask, it requires special precautions. It must be properly fitted and not touched to maintain its potential for optimal protection. Hence, so far, the wearing of FFP2 masks was only recommended for health professionals since they are trained in using them.

The French government, on the other hand, does not specifically advocate one mask over another, and mask rules say only that a mask must fully cover the wearer’s nose and mouth – face shields are not counted as masks.

In a note published on December 8th, he French Conseil Scientifique had only suggested that the FFP2 mask was recommended for “vulnerable or non-vaccinated people” in the individual protection measures in the context of the holidays.

The FFP2 has already been compulsory for a year in Germany and Austria and more recently it has become so in Italy and Greece.