French hospitals ‘under pressure from Covid until March’ warn scientists

France's Covid-19 Scientific Council warned on Thursday that hospitals would remain under pressure until mid-March at the earliest as school class closures topped 18,000.

A French health worker performs an antigen test.
A French health worker performs an antigen test. As the government plans on relaxing Covid restrictions, scientists are concerned. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, laid out a timeline for the easing of Covid rules on Thursday evening.

The earliest changes come on February 2nd, when face masks will no longer be required outdoors, venue capacity limits will be scrapped and working from home three days per week will no longer be compulsory. 

READ MORE Calendar: When is France lifting Covid restrictions?

On the same day that Castex made his announcements, France’s Scientific Council on Covid-19, an independent body that advises the government warned that the fifth wave has the potential to cause problems in the national health system until mid-March at the earliest.

“The health system will remain under very high pressure for many weeks, in particular in the south of France,” wrote the Council in a report updated on Thursday

It warned of the potential ill-effects of delayed surgeries and other treatments because of beds occupied by Covid patients. 

The continued functioning of the health system in France is dependent, according the the Council, on “the reduction of social contact and the continued practice of barrier gestures in the coming weeks.”

READ MORE ANALYSIS: How dangerous are France’s sky-high Covid rates?

The Council estimates that between 9-14 million people in France have been infected with Omicron. It said that continued high infection rates could be linked to the reopening of schools after the Christmas holidays and urged for the current testing regime to be maintained. 

On Thursday the government expanded the number of professionals authorised to carry out Covid tests to include: speech therapists, chiropodists, orthoptists, medical physicists, occupational therapists, audioprosthesists, veterinarians and a host of others.

Covid case numbers in France remain exceptionally high, with more than 400,000 new daily cases recorded in the three days leading up to the government’s announcements on Thursday evening. On Monday alone some 525,000 positive cases were reported.

On Friday morning 18,786 classes in schools remained closed due to Covid-19 – a new record representing some 3.56 percent of all classes in France 

The conversion of the health pass into a vaccine pass on January 24th will mean that negative Covid tests will no longer be sufficient for people who want to access venues currently subject to the health pass.

READ ALSO What changes when France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass?

The government hopes the move will drive up vaccination rates further and add some level of protection against falling seriously ill with Covid. 

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Kinder pulls 3,000 tonnes of products after salmonella cases

Children in nine European countries, including 81 in France, were affected

Kinder pulls 3,000 tonnes of products after salmonella cases

More than 3,000 tonnes of Kinder products have been withdrawn from the market over salmonella fears leaving a dent of tens of millions of euros, a company official has told France’s Le Parisien.

Nicolas Neykov, the head of Ferrero France, said the contamination came “from a filter located in a vat for dairy butter”, at a factory in Arlon in Belgium.

He said the contamination could have been caused by humans or raw materials.

Chocolate products made at the factory in Arlon, southeastern Belgium, were found to contain salmonella, resulting in 150 cases in nine European countries.

Eighty-one of these were in France, mainly affecting children under 10 years old.

The factory’s closure and the health concerns were blows to its owner, Italian confectionery giant Ferrero, coming at the height of the Easter holiday season when its Kinder chocolates are sought-after supermarket buys.

“This crisis is heartbreaking. It’s the biggest removal of products in the last 20 years,” Neykov said.

But the company hoped to be able to start up the factory again, with 50 percent of health and safety inspections to be carried out by an approved “external laboratory” in the future, instead of the previous system of only internal reviews.

“We have asked for a reopening from June 13 to relaunch production as soon as possible,” he added.