French public health body confirms ‘return of Covid epidemic’

The French public health body Santé Publique France says that the epidemic has returned with the increase in Covid cases and hospitalisations in France.

French hospitals are recording an increase in Covid admissions.
French hospitals are recording an increase in Covid admissions. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP

After weeks of cases steadily falling, France began to report a slight increase in case numbers at the beginning of October.

Santé Publique France’s weekly report for the week beginning October 18th states that “the resumption of viral circulation has been confirmed in metropolitan France” and hospitals were again beginning to report a rise in admissions from Covid patients.

Overall case numbers remain low with an average of 5,362 new cases per day, but that figure includes a 15 percent increase over the past week and the R rate is now 1.09, just above the rate where cases increase.

READ ALSO A new wave of Covid cases in France is likely, but it won’t be as bad as the UK’s

The average daily case numbers have been falling since the summer, but in recent weeks have seen a slight rise. Graph:

The alert level of 50 cases per 100,000 people has now been exceeded in 44 of France’s 96 mainland départements.

Incidence rate in départements of France, with départements that have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people shown in green. To the left of the map are represented France’s overseas départements, while the top left shows an expanded view of Paris and its suburbs. Map:

The SPF report also confirms that hospitals are seeing an increase in admission of Covid patients, with an overall increase of two percent of Covid-related admissions, but a 12 percent increase in admissions to intensive care.

Among those who are admitted to intensive care, 13.8 per million are unvaccinated, 1.3 per million are vaccinated. 

In total 20 percent of intensive care beds are now occupied by Covid patients.

Several European countries are also reporting an increase in Covid cases, with possible causes being the drop in temperatures that have moved socialising indoors combined with the waving of vaccine efficiency as more people reach the six-month mark from their second dose.

France has begun its booster shot programme for those in high-risk groups, but is urging more people to come forward and take up the offer of a vaccine booster.

READ ALSO Who gets a Covid booster shot in France?

MPs have agreed to an extension of France’s health passport past its original end-date of November 15th and government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that the rising case numbers mean that it is unlikely there will be any lifting of the health pass requirement in the immediate future.

On Thursday local authorities in the Loire-Atlantique département reimposed mask rules for outdoor areas in around 70 communes where high infection rates have been reported.

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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.