France sees spike in Covid cases as restrictions ease

Monday marks a major relaxation of Covid rules in France - but case numbers appear to be rising again.

France sees spike in Covid cases as restrictions ease
Falling intensive care unit capacity has allowed the French government to loosen Covid rules, even as case numbers increase. (Photo by Nicolas TUCAT / AFP)

Covid case numbers are picking up in France, just as the country relaxes its pandemic restrictions.

The latest official data dates to Thursday, March 10th, when the seven-day case average reached 60,323 – a 16.5 percent rise compared to the week before. The incidence rate is rising among all age groups. 

“Covid is not falling, it is even increasing,” said Health Minister Olivier Véran last week, warning of a “rebound” of the pandemic. 

A sub-variant of Omicron, known as BA2, is thought to be behind the increase in cases. 

In an interview with Le Parisien, Prime Minister Jean Castex said that this strain was “more transmissible than the initial Omicron, but does not seem more dangerous.”

Covid case numbers in France are still a long way off the peak of the fifth wave, but have seen an uptick over the past weeks. (Source: Covid Tracker)

The pick-up in case numbers comes as France relaxes a number of pandemic restrictions, including the suspension of the vaccine pass and the scrapping of mask rules. 

READ MORE How has France relaxed its Covid rules?

Some feel that the loosening of the rules is too soon. 

“All of this feels too soon to me,” tweeted one of our readers.

“I reckon we’ll be back wearing masks before Easter,” replied another. 

The good news is that for now at least, admission into intensive care units due to Covid-19 is still falling after reaching unprecedented highs in mid-January during the fifth wave. 

While Véran noted that this was an encouraging sign, he said that it was vital that health authorities remain “extremely vigilant.” 

The 7-day average of daily admissions into intensive care units with Covid stood at 103 on Thursday - a 12 percent decline on the week before.

The 7-day average of daily admissions into French intensive care units with Covid stood at 103 on Thursday – a 12 percent decline on the week before. (Source: CovidTracker)

The lifting of restrictions has gone ahead as scheduled because intensive care unit capacity, which currently stands at 37 percent, is within the target limits set by the government. 

“The improvement in hospitals and our high vaccine coverage lead us to carry on with the lifting of measures,” said Prime Minister Jean Castex on Saturday. 

He called on the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions to continue wearing masks in busy indoor spaces. 

France is not alone in experiencing such an uptick, with neighbouring countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the UK all seeing mini-spikes of their own. 

Member comments

  1. Covid is not going away – it will be with us forever in some form or other. But we need to learn to live with it.
    Fortunately BA2 is mild – so we can probably be careful and live with it. Just because we have the choice to not wear masks or show a vaccine pass does not mean we should stop doing the basics of social distancing and washing your hands.
    However we have got to the stage where you need a test to know if you have covid, as symptoms are so mild so that is good news

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How bad will France’s Covid-19 summer wave be and could there be new restrictions?

Daily Covid-19 cases in France topped 200,000 on Tuesday as infections rise sharply. Here is what we can expect for the seventh wave of the pandemic in the country.

How bad will France's Covid-19 summer wave be and could there be new restrictions?

France has seen a huge increase in the number of Covid-19 infections in recent days.

The country was reporting an average of 100,000 cases per day as of July 2nd but by Tuesday July 5th the daily case count had topped 200,000.

Hospital admissions and admissions into intensive care are also on the rise, but the number of Covid-related deaths has not risen. 

Here is what you can expect for the coming weeks:

Cases to continue rising – For the moment the number of cases is expected to continue growing sharply, with variants BA.4 and BA.5 currently representing over 75 percent of cases in France.

However, even though infections continue to rise sharply (around 60 percent up on last week), the rate of growth appears to be slowing in recent days, accoridng to French data scientist and founder of the Covid Tracker website Guillaume Rozier.

“This [current] stability in cases is an encouraging sign, because the number of cases had been increasing for the past month. There is usually about a three week lag between the peak in cases and the peak in deaths deaths. We still have to be cautious and wait for another week and a half,” said Rozier in one of his regular Twitter threads.

In contrast to the peak of infections during the fifth wave last winter, which saw over 500,000 cases reported a day, this wave is currently seeing an average of 100,000 cases per day, though the peak has not yet been reached. 

If you test positive while in France, here is a guide of what to do.

READ MORE: French public urged to wear face masks again on public transport

Likely peak in late July – The seventh wave may reach its peak by the end of July in France, estimated Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, the president of the Scientific Council, on June 30th. The wave is likely to continue being fuelled by Omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and notably BA.5.

Regarding the number of hospitalisations, Marc Lavielle, a professor and researcher with the French National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology explained that we are “in a fairly steady pattern of exponential growth,” meaning that the “number of hospital admissions doubles every two weeks or so.”

This represents a much slower pace than at the beginning of the epidemic, when the number doubled in only three days. However, Lavielle warned that without restrictive measures the increase could accelerate. Deaths are currently at about 40 per day, but it is important to note that the deaths usually lag infections by three weeks.

In comparison to the end of June in 2021, only 22,000 cases were detected per day, whereas this summer saw around 70,000 per day at the end of June. Nevertheless, this wave has so far seen a lower number of admissions into critical care than last summer’s wave that was fuelled by the more dangerous Delta variant.

The severity of this variant and wave – So far, symptoms associated with this current wave are “standard for Omicron,” while the duration of symptoms seems to last a bit longer. Currently there is no data showing variants BA.4 and BA.5 are more dangerous than other variants in Omicron family, though evidence shows they are spreading faster. Mortality is also not higher than other variants based on current data.

“The main symptoms associated with BA.5 are fairly standard for Omicron: fatigue, cough, fever and headache. However, the likelihood of experiencing loss of taste or smell is higher than with BA.2,” explained Yannick Simonin, virologist and researcher at the University of Montpellier. He added that infected people also seem to be experiencing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea at higher rates.

The duration of symptoms for BA.5 appears to be closer to seven days, rather than four days, which was common for previous Omicron sub-variants. 

Ultimately, there is “currently no field data showing this sub-variant is more lethal than others in the Omicron family.” 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

How concerned should we be?

Based on observations from countries who have already experienced a BA.5 wave, like Portugal and South Africa, so far this wave has not caused a serious over-saturation of hospitals. H

However, there has still been significant increases in hospitalisations due to large number of cases. Therefore, experts recommend staying vigilant by wearing masks in enclosed spaces and crowded areas, as well as getting a second booster if eligible. So far, only 31 percent of over 80s have received their second booster shot. 

No return of health pass in metropolitan France.?

The president of the National Assembly announced over the weekend that France’s Covid-19 health pass, rolled out in the summer of 2021 to allow vaccinated individuals entry to bars and restaurants or cinemas, will not be renewed on August 1st.

Lawmakers are set to go over the bill concerning the country’s health security on Monday, July 11th, which is likely to extend some “essential provisions to face the continuation of the Covid-19 epidemic,” according to government spokesperson Olivier Véran.

Thus, there is a possibility that the health pass will be reinstated for border crossings, which would affect France’s overseas territories and Corsica. However, officials have clarified that the health pass will not be renewed in metropolitan France, despite the seventh wave.