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Covid France: Hospital rates rise slightly, ICU admittances decreasing

The regions seeing the highest increase in cases are those in which children went back to school earlier after the February half-term holidays

The subvariant of Omicron, BA.2, is now dominant in France, figures suggest, although it is too soon to tell if this will cause another wave or an increase in deaths Pic: Angellodeco / Shutterstock

France is experiencing a slight “epidemic rebound”, with Covid cases and hospitalisations on the rise in recent days as almost all restrictions came to an end yesterday (March 14).

Masks are still required on public transport and health or care-related settings, where health passes also remain in place. However, everywhere else, masks are no longer mandatory and vaccine pass rules have been removed.

Read more: Recap: Mask wearing, vaccine pass… new rules for France from March 14

Yet, Health Minister Olivier Véran warned yesterday: “The end of mandatory [rules] doesn’t mean the end of vigilance. I invite everyone in France to wear masks in any circumstances in which they or themselves could be exposed to contamination risks.”

Read more: End of France’s vaccine pass: What changes for tourists and residents?

So far, experts have said it is too soon to tell if the rising cases are the start of a new wave or not. Here are the latest updates.

Cases and hospitalisations slightly up

The number of new daily cases reached a record in France at the end of January, with 366,000 per day on average. 

This figure has been dropping since then, to the start of March, when it stabilised at around 50,000 per day on average. Now, for just under two weeks, it has been rising slowly, to an average of 65,000 cases per day by March 13.

Hospitalisation figures have also stopped dropping. After a peak of more than 2,900 daily hospitalisations at the start of February, this figure fell to an average of 950 at the start of March but then plateaued and has now been rising slowly for around a week. 

By March 13, the average had crept up to 973 hospitalisations per day.

Even before taking into account the easing of restrictions yesterday, in its latest report from March 14 the Institut Pasteur predicted a nationwide rise in hospital admissions in the coming days.

The number of deaths, however, is still dropping. Admissions to intensive care, and deaths, are on the decrease, after a peak at the start of February. This suggests that fewer people are suffering from severe forms of the illness.

Subvariant BA.2 is more contagious, and now dominant

The subvariant of Omicron, dubbed BA.2, is considered to be at the root of the rising cases.

Professor Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the government scientific advisory body le Conseil scientifique and director of the emerging illnesses unit at l’Institut Pasteur, told FranceInter: “The subvariant of Omicron is more contagious than its predecessor.”

Similarly, Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah, head of infectious diseases at the Bichat hospital in Paris, and also a member of the Conseil scientifique, told FranceInfo: “The Omicron BA.2 variant is 30% more contagious.”

While Omicron BA.1 was dominant in France at the end of December, BA.2 is now taking the lead. It was already dominant in Denmark and India at the end of January. 

Figures from health body Santé publique France suggested that as of February 28, BA.2 already made up 52% of cases in France.

Contaminations up due to schools going back

The regions seeing the highest increase in cases are those in which children went back to school after holidays, said Professor Fontanet.

He said: “The regions where the incidence has risen again are those that returned from holiday on February 21.”

These are Zone B, which includes Hauts-de-France, Grand Est, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Brittany. 

Similarly, in the regions of Zone C (Ile-de-France and Occitanie), there has been an increase in infections since March 7, the end of the school holidays there.

Reassuring but not-yet-certain predictions

So far, Mr Véran has said that “this rebound is not a wave”, and has based this prediction on projections made by l’Institut Pasteur on March 10.

The report stated: “In all scenarios explored, the peak of the cases [in March] appears much lower than the January peak.”

Professor Yazdanpanah said that this is likely because “immunity has taken hold”. He said: “More than 80% of people have been vaccinated, 50% have had a booster dose, and a significant proportion, estimated at 40%, of the population, has already been infected.”

He also said that the fourth dose of the vaccine, which is now available for people aged over 80, is “important” for “durable immunity”.

Read more: Fourth Covid vaccine dose now available in France for the over-80s

However, the Institut Pasteur study did not take into account "the progressive decline in immunity, which could make" the projections "too optimistic", the authors stated. 

Similarly, "the impact of climate" was not taken into account in these models, it said, even though major epidemic waves affected France in the spring of both 2020 and 2021.

So far in France, 80.5% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, with 79.1% having received all doses required, and 53.1% having received a booster.

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