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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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.