How serious will France’s fourth wave of Covid be, according to experts?

Three weeks ago, the Pasteur Institute in Paris predicted a fourth wave of Covid cases with even more hospitalisations than the first wave in April 2020. But that was before President Macron announced that the French health pass would be required for many daily activities.

How serious will France’s fourth wave of Covid be, according to experts?
Health workers stand at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Villetaneuse, northern suburb of Paris. Photo: Alain JOCARD / AFP.

Record numbers of people booked vaccine appointments following Macron’s announcements on July 12th, leading the Pasteur Institute to revise its projections.

With the current vaccination rhythm, researchers now expect 2,500 hospitalisations per day, which is half of what they had anticipated in their projections three weeks ago. And if the infection rate –  the number of people getting infected by one person – decreases from 2 to 1.8, daily admissions in hospitals would drop to 1,800, according to projections published on Monday.

On July 9th, a scenario published by the Pasteur Institute anticipated 4,800 new admissions per day at hospitals at the height of the fourth wave, a significant increase compared to the 3,600 daily hospitalisations during the first wave last spring.

After President Macron announced the expansion of the health passport – requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative test – to venues that would include cinemas, restaurants and trains, the French rushed to get vaccinated.

Last weekend, France’s parliament voted to make vaccine passports a key part of daily life in the battle against Covid-19. The text is currently being reviewed by the French Constitutional Council before it turns into law.

READ ALSO Will France’s fourth wave of Covid really ‘ruin’ the summer holidays?

In the meantime, more and more French people are getting a jab. Over the past two weeks, four million people in France received vaccines, with almost 60 percent of the population now partly or fully vaccinated.

“The acceleration of vaccination combined with a decrease, even small, in the infection rate could have a significant impact on the size of the fourth wave,” the Pasteur experts said in their report.

During the week of July 16th to 22nd, approximately 684,000 doses were injected per day. In the weeks before the Pasteur Institute published its first report, less than 500,000 daily doses were given.

However, these projections will only prove accurate if vaccination is combined with other health measures, according to the Pasteur Institute researchers.

READ ALSO France set to enforce Covid health pass in bars, restaurants and trains from August 9th

“It is essential that the acceleration of the vaccination campaign continues with a massive compliance of the population and that the transmission rates decrease in the general population, thanks to the maintaining of social distancing measures, the wearing of a mask and the health pass,” the researchers said in their report.

The peak of Covid-19 cases is anticipated for September in most of the scenarios studied by the Pasteur Institute, with “pressure on hospitals that could become significant as soon as August in the least favourable scenarios,” the experts said in their report.

Nonetheless, the researchers remain cautious regarding these new projections. “The spread of Covid-19 is difficult to anticipate and the dynamic of the epidemic can change rapidly,” they said.

“In the past we have seen a slowing down and an acceleration of the epidemic without being able to explain them,” Institute Pasteur researcher Simon Cauchemez told Le Monde. “There’s the virus, but there are also adjustments to people’s behaviour, which are independent from the measures taken by the authorities.”

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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.