Delta variant sends deaths soaring in remote French Polynesia

Covid infections are soaring in the sparsely populated Pacific territory of French Polynesia, with health authorities reporting 54 deaths from the virus over the weekend as the Delta variant spreads among a largely unvaccinated population.

Delta variant sends deaths soaring in remote French Polynesia
Beds and stretchers set up in the hall of the French Polynesia Taaone Hospital in Papeete. Photo: Mike LEYRAL / AFP.

More than 300 people have died from Covid-19 since the pandemic hit the remote archipelago – home to 280,000 inhabitants. Over half of those deaths have come in the last three weeks.

The territory has so far recorded 7,591 infections, though the true figure is likely higher as most asymptomatic people are not being tested. High rates of diabetes and obesity have made the population more vulnerable.

The territory’s limited health care system has struggled to cope, with one major hospital setting up beds in hallways to handle the rising number of patients. Bodies have been loaded onto refrigerator trucks to relieve pressure on the overwhelmed morgue.

The Polynesian archipelago is now under a curfew and the Society Islands – which include the largest island of Tahiti and other more densely populated areas – are under lockdown.

But the rules, which allow for a modicum of economic activity, have been difficult to enforce.

The territory’s president Edouard Fritch was forced to apologise after being spotted playing guitar at a wedding party attended by hundreds of maskless people in defiance of the regulations.

Schools have been closed for at least two weeks and efforts are being made to teach online but many underprivileged students do not have access to the internet.

The French government has voiced alarm about Covid-19 infection rates in its overseas territories.

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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.