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Covid: As daily cases reach 10,000, can France avoid a fifth wave?

People should be ‘attentive but not alarmist’ about the increase in cases, says an infectious diseases expert

One professor said maintaining barrier gestures was crucial to keeping Covid cases down this winter Pic: CGN089 / Shutterstock

France yesterday (November 3) reported more than 10,050 Covid cases in 24 hours, marking the first time figures have risen over 10,000 since mid-September. 

However the figure could be misleading. 

Case numbers are normally higher on Mondays as test results delayed over the weekend come in and this week, Monday, November 1 was a bank holiday meaning test results are likely to have been more delayed than usual.

On Tuesday, November 2, some 6,528 cases were reported, and the weekly average is now at 5,917 positive cases per day.

While the increase may not therefore be as dramatic as the latest figures indicate, cases are rising and the national incidence rate (the number of cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days) is now at 62 – above France’s alert threshold of 50.

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal yesterday announced the reintroduction of mask wearing in primary schools in 39 new departments where the incidence rate is over 50 and said increases in Covid hospitalisations were gaining “momentum”.

On November 3, some 6,764 people were hospitalised in France with Covid, an increase of 84 people in 24 hours.

Read more: Masks to be required again in primary schools in 39 French departments

Current figures ‘do not look like start of fifth wave’

The R number (the number of people each infected person goes on to infect) is at 1.1, similar to the levels it was at in October 2020 at the start of the second wave in France.

This has led experts to question whether a fifth wave is on the horizon, or if the health situation will remain stable this winter.

At the beginning of October, Mircea Sofonea, infectious disease specialist at Montpellier University, told La Dépêche that conditions in France were relatively “positive”.

“For things to change, we would have to see a new variant, or for there to be a serious change in use of barrier gestures. As far as we know, there is no threatening variant that could replace Delta and we are not seeing a widespread relaxation of health measures.”

He said he expected “flare ups” of the virus in the coming months and years, but not on the same scale as the waves of cases seen in the past 18 months.

Professor of infectious diseases at Rennes CHU, Pierre Tattevin, agreed, telling Ouest France that the current situation “does not look at all like the start of a fifth wave”. 

He said: “[Cases] are rising very gently and look nothing like one year ago. Then we had peaks of 70,000 cases and at the moment we have just over 6,000.”

He said people should “be attentive, but not alarmist” about the increase in cases, and advised that people increase their use of barrier gestures until cases start to fall again.

“This rise in cases must be a moment in which we remind ourselves that we are not out of the woods yet and that we must go back to respecting barrier gestures until the infection rate comes back down.”

Need for booster jabs

Professor Tattevin added that France had “certainly got a bit behind with the booster dose vaccination campaign” for vulnerable groups, whose immune response begins to dip six months after the second dose.

“These people are advised to all get vaccinated again before the winter, to avoid them developing serious forms [of the virus],” he said. 

“This virus does not completely immunise people against it. People recover from Covid and then a few months later are no longer protected from [catching it again]. So we will probably, individually but also collectively, have to immunise ourselves gradually.

“This may be through vaccine booster doses at fixed intervals, or through catching it. But thanks to the vaccinations that we have had before, cases will be less severe.”

French Guiana study finds vaccines and infection raise immunity

This comes as a study from l’Institut Pasteur indicates that 63.9% of the population in French Guiana have developed enough antibodies to be considered immune to Covid.

The study included just under 2,000 people who undertook blood tests allowing researchers to distinguish between those who had been vaccinated, and others who had built up immunity through contracting the virus.

As only 33.9% of the population is vaccinated in French Guiana, a large number of Covid infections in the territory has helped to raise the immunity rate.

However, a 90% immunity rate is needed to provide herd immunity, meaning the virus is unable to circulate or can only circulate at very low levels. 

On November 2, the report from the Ministère des Solidarités et de la Santé showed that in mainland France, 90% of people aged 12 and over have currently received at least one dose of the vaccine and 88% were fully vaccinated.

However, Professor Tattevin said “immunity for [vulnerable] people lasts for around six months” after vaccination, meaning booster shots are necessary.

MPs vote to extend possible use of health pass to summer 2022

Meanwhile, MPs in France voted last night to extend possible use of the health pass until July 31, 2022, contradicting the Senate’s decision to shorten the period to February 28, 2022.

MPs approved the longer timeframe by 147 votes in favour to 125 against and two abstentions. 

The amended law will now be returned to the Senate today for another vote, before a final decision from the Assemblée nationale on Friday.

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