What is driving the explosion of Covid cases in France?

After many months of falling or stable Covid rates, cases are now rising rapidly in France - so what is driving the increase and how worried is the government?

Mask rules have been reintroduced in several areas as cases rise.
Mask rules have been reintroduced in several areas as cases rise. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP

France recorded nearly 30,000 new Covid cases on Tuesday, while the weekly average shows a 82 percent increase on the previous week.

For the moment, the average daily case rates of 18,000 remain lower than many of France’s neighbours (and less than half of those recorded in the UK), but the very rapid increase in cases over the past two weeks has alarmed experts.

Graph showing the evolution of positive Covid tests, with a daily average of 18,297 new cases. Graph:


France is recording a daily average rate of 18,297 new cases – the daily average is considered the most accurate measure as it avoids problems with under-reporting over the weekends and consequently high numbers at the start of the week as data is adjusted.

Thanks to France’s high vaccine rate, fewer patients are becoming seriously ill. There are now 1,455 Covid patients in intensive care, representing 29 percent of ICU capacity.

France is reporting an average of 54 Covid deaths per day. Both death and hospitalisation rates, while remaining relatively low, are also showing significant increases – deaths are up 54 percent on the previous week while intensive care admissions are up 35 percent.

What is driving the new wave?

Children – the biggest single increase is in the 6-10 age group, which has seen a 148 percent increase in the incidence rate in a week. There are now 340 cases per 100,000 children aged between 6 and 10, compared to the overall incidence rate of 191.

Children in this age group do not yet qualify for a vaccine – a decision that the government will be reviewing – and although it is rare for them to get seriously ill with Covid they can transmit the virus to more vulnerable people, such as grandparents. There is also the concern of ‘long Covid’.

Primary schools in areas with low Covid cases relaxed mask rules in the autumn, but these rules are now back in place and all primary school children wear masks in class.

Weather – Over the summer socialising could take place outdoors and the majority of French people ate and drank with friends en terrasse. However the cold weather is now driving people indoors and cafés are closing their expanded terraces. At present masks are not required in indoor spaces which are covered by the health pass – such as cinemas, tourist sites, and cafés – but this rule could be revised.

Neighbours – France sits between three countries – the UK, Belgium and Germany – which have seen big surges in case numbers. Travel between France and Belgium and Germany is largely unrestricted with only unvaccinated travellers requiring a Covid test. Travel between France and the UK is still restricted for unvaccinated travellers, who require an essential reason to come to France. For full details on all travel heads, head to our Travelling to France section.

Vaccine fade – France got off to a slow start with its vaccination programme, which means that the six month ‘vaccine fade effect’ documented in other countries is only now becoming apparent in France as people reach the six-month anniversary of their second dose.

Vaccine booster shots are open to over 65s and priority groups, and will be expanded to over 50s on December 1st. For over 65s, the booster shot will be required in order to keep their health pass. The government is reviewing a possible expansion of the booster shot programme.

READ ALSO Who is eligible for a Covid booster in France?

Relaxation of barrier gestures – as cases fell the government relaxed several rules such as the mask mandate, but advice on barrier gestures – hand-washing, physical distance, avoiding kisses and handshakes – remain in place. However many people have observed that ‘barrier gestures’ are less well observed than before, with around half of French people saying they have resumed doing la bise – the double (or treble, or quadruple) cheek kiss.

How worried are the government?

The government’s Defence Council is meeting on Wednesday to discuss the situation and whether any new measures are required.

A return to lockdown has been ruled out at this stage, but the government is looking at other measures including an acceleration of the vaccine booster programme and tightening up mask rules for indoor areas.

READ ALSO What can we expect from the government as France battles fifth wave of Covid?

When will it end?

Obviously this depends in part on what action the government takes, but Martin Hirsch, director general of the Paris hospitals group AP-HP, expects the peak in hospital numbers to occur “at the end of December or the beginning of January”.

Member comments

  1. Actually, France sits between more than just 3 countries….
    France borders Belgium and Luxembourg in the northeast. Germany, Switzerland, and Italy in the east. Monaco, Spain, and Andorra in the south.

    1. Also Brazil and Suriname (French Guiana). The other overseas regions are all basically islands with any(?) land borders.

      The article was talking about those countries which have seen a big increase recently in Covid-19 cases. Even so, as you point out, it’s not too accurate; Switzerland (as one example) has also seen a large increase, as have Belgium and (as I recall without checking) both Luxembourg and Andorra. And, as the article includes teh “U”K, it should also include Ireland, which also “borders” mainland France in the same sense and has seen a large increase.

      Staying with mainland Europe, it’s Spain, Italy, and Monaco which, like France, aren’t as badly hit – yet.

      1. The point was to mention the bordering countries with big surges. A geography lesson mentioning ALL the countries bordering France wasn’t necessary. It’s better to read articles for content rather than nitpicking them.

        1. Whew grumpy….. Are you not nitpicking TJS??
          Go back under your rock and come out when called, there’s a good boy.

    2. The point was to mention the bordering countries with big surges. A geography lesson mentioning ALL the countries bordering France wasn’t necessary. It’s better to read articles for content rather than nitpicking them.

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Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.