Hospitals in the Ile-de-France have been ordered to cancel 40% of general operations in order to free up intensive care beds for Covid patients.
The rate of occupation in intensive care beds in the region is currently at 88%, and is expected to rise in the coming days.
But Jérôme Salomon, national director of health, said that the increasingly difficult health context did not mean that a lockdown would be enforced in the Ile-de-France.
He said: “Hospitals are experiencing a lot of stress, but they are holding on.
“Confinement in Ile-de-France is not on the agenda - this measure will be proposed if hospitals can no longer manage.”
Covid cases rise in region
All eight departments of the Ile-de-France are currently classed as being on “heightened alert” for Covid cases.
In departments on heightened alert over 50% of Covid cases can be identified as strains of the UK, South African of Brazilian variants.
In Ile-de-France, the UK variant is currently responsible for over 60% of Covid cases, rising to over 70% in Val-d’Oise and Yvelines.
All eight departments are also over the 250 alert threshold for their rate of incidence (number of positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants recorded in the last seven days).
Of the 10 departments in France where the rate of incidence has risen the most in the week before March 5, six are in the Ile-de-France.
In the worst affected department, Seine-Saint-Denis, the rate of incidence rose 80% between February 15 and March 5.
In Val-de-Marne it rose by 60% in the same period.
The rate of incidence in these two departments is now higher than in the Pas-de-Calais, Hauts-de-France, where a three-week weekend confinement is currently being enforced.
Ile-de-France hospitals feeling the strain
The number of patients in intensive care has also been rising steadily in the region since February 26.
There are currently 984 patients in intensive care in the Ile-de-France, accounting for over a quarter of the 3,849 patients nationally.
It is in this context that local health authority l’Agence régionale de santé ordered 40% of operations to be cancelled in the region in order to free up beds for more Covid patients.
Dr Gilles Pialoux, head of infectious illness at Tenon hospital in Paris, told news source Franceinfo that cancelling operations was “an admission of failure against the virus.”
In an interview on Monday, March 8, the doctor said: “For politicians, confinement is a failure - for us [doctors] it’s the occupancy rate in intensive care."
He said that intensive care admissions were rising by a “slow but relentless” 2% every day in the Ile-de-France.
Meanwhile local politicians, including Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and President of Seine-Saint-Denis Stéphane Troussel, have spoken out against new confinement measures in the capital.
Ms Hidalgo said reintroducing confinement would be “intolerable” for many people.
Concerns for long-term health implications
But, if patient numbers continue to rise, Dr Pialoux said space outside intensive care would have to be found for seriously ill Covid patients - as it was during the first wave of the virus in spring 2020 - including “staff -only spaces and operating theatres… That means cancelling operations”.
This could have long-term consequences. “We are cancelling operations for patients which were already cancelled during the first wave,” the doctor said.
“That will have an impact on serious illnesses and mortality rates in the future”.
It could also have a damaging psychological impact on many patients including, for example, women awaiting breast reconstruction surgery.
Cancer support network Rose Up said breast reconstruction surgeries had been systematically cancelled throughout the health pandemic.
“The psychological consequences are enormous and so are the professional consequences,” manager Céline Lis-Raoux told FranceInfo.
“There are women who cannot face going back to work if they cannot do so with a whole body.
“Losing a breast is like losing a limb.”
Ms Lis-Raoux called on patients and health care providers to find solutions together to try and maintain operations through the pandemic.