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Covid France: Latest on Omicron, hospitals and a possible fourth dose

Health minister gives updates on pressure on hospital beds, case numbers and the difference between the variants. We summarise

Photo design of a syringe silhouetted against letters reading Omicron B.1.1.529 SARS-Cov-2

The French health minister is among the experts to have given a range of updates on the current Covid health situation as the new year begins Pic: viewimage / Shutterstock

Health Minister Olivier Véran has given a series of updates on the Covid health situation in France over the last two days (January 2 and 3) as the country returns to work and school after the holidays. Here are the main points.

Record cases

Delta is continuing to spread and may have peaked, even as Omicron remains more contagious.

Mr Véran said that the country has reached “a high plateau of Delta contaminations” and said that “we have never recorded as many cases worldwide”.

Different hospital pressure between variants

Mr Véran said that while “Delta is saturating intensive care, Omicron is saturating conventional hospital beds”. He said that “very few” patients are currently in intensive care due to Omicron infection.

He said: “[Omicron] is less dangerous, that’s clear, and the need for intensive care beds is less acute than in previous variants.”

He warned that even though fewer intensive care beds are in demand, it is still important not to saturate normal hospital beds with Covid patients.

He said: “The Omicron variant will fill our hospitals. [Despite] the arrival of other illnesses such as flu and gastroenteritis, out of 400,000 beds in our hospitals, 20,000 are already occupied by Covid patients.”

Professor Bruno Lina, virology expert at the CHU Lyon and a member of the government advisory body le Conseil scientifique this morning told BFMTV that the emergence of the Omicron variant “shows that we are still in the evolutionary process” when it comes to the virus, but “this evolution is clearly different to what we have seen until now”.

He said that it will “continue to evolve, but it may be a less rapid change than we have seen up until now, meaning that it will retreat to become just another seasonal virus”.

Collective immunity

Mr Véran clarified that Omicron appears “less dangerous” only because more of the country now has higher immunity against Covid.

He said: “Given the rate of infection in our country, it is likely that we have all acquired immunity either through vaccination or transmission.”

A fourth vaccination dose? 

The minister said that the question of a fourth vaccination dose was still being discussed.

He said: “The question of another vaccine dose will become pertinent quite quickly for the most fragile people in our country; the immunosuppressed and the very elderly.”

So far, only Israel has opened up fourth doses.

‘We have to get past this point’

Overall, Professor Alain Fischer, immunologist and president of the government’s vaccination strategy, summarised that the country needs to “get past the point” of January.

He told BFMTV: "In January we will see the persistence of the Delta variant and the explosion of the Omicron variant. We have to get past this point."

He said that the country’s goal of administering 25 million booster injections within five weeks was “critical but possible”.

He said: "There are a lot of reasons to think that it can be met, before the holiday season the rate of vaccination was already very high. This target is reachable and it must be met.”

It comes as the health minister has introduced a series of new measures and changes in rules from today in a bid to continue to combat Covid while balancing economic concerns.

In the past 24 hours, there were 58,432 new cases confirmed, with 84.3% of sequenced tests identified as the Delta variant [France does not systematically sequence for the Omicron variant].

Case numbers are estimated to be lower due to many laboratories being closed on the Bank Holiday of January 1 and Sunday.

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