The French have taken off their masks and vaccinated passports almost everywhere, but the Covid-19 epidemic has not yet ended. While the fifth wave began to decline, a return to growth began from the beginning of March. This resurgence of the epidemic in France revives government criticism of the lifting of health measures, which many epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists consider premature.
The number of new cases is on the rise
Since the beginning of March, the average number of new cases calculated per week has started to rise again. The daily average was 89,002 cases per day on Sunday, up from 65,251 cases a week earlier. This surge in the epidemic is also observed in schools after the winter break: on Friday, 3,184 classes were closed against 2,693 classes a week earlier.
As a result of the resumption of the epidemic, the number of hospitalizations is no longer decreasing. On Sunday, March 20, French hospitals saw an average of 1,068 new Covid-19 positive patients appear daily for a week. This spike in the epidemic has also been observed for several weeks in other European countries such as the United Kingdom.
Such a rebound can be explained, among other things, by the predominance of the Omicron BA.2 sub-option. It is about 30% more contagious than its predecessor, BA.1, as noted by infectious disease specialist Yazdan Yazdanpanah. However, this sub-variant currently represents 57% of infections, according to the latest epidemiological data published by the French Public Health Authority on March 17.
Another explanation must be sought on the side of vaccines. The protective effect of the reminder wanes in the elderly after three months, according to Dries, the statistical office of the social ministries. However, according to Public Health France, more than 10% of people over 80 are not vaccinated. Some regions are also less vaccinated than average, such as Corsica (where 67% of the population has a full vaccination schedule) or Guyana (30%).
The government is now offering people over 80 years of age to take a second booster dose. To date, 75% of people aged 80 and over have received their first booster shot. On Friday, the Haute Autorité de santé (HAS) went further than the government, estimating that a fourth dose of the vaccine should be offered to people over 65. “more at risk”.
Barrier gestures are less respected
Many experts also point to the weakening of barrier gestures. Tired of a two-year pandemic, some French people did not wait for the end of the mask and the suspension of the vaccine on March 14 to weaken their protection against the virus. “The French are less cautious because the message the government sends with the lifting of restrictions is that everything is going very well, when in fact it is not.”laments epidemiologist Katherine Hill in Express.
“We canceled the barrier measures, the wearing of a mask and skipping vaccinations too early.also considers the epidemiologist Yves Buisson in the columns of the weekly. We had to wait until May, because in people’s minds this means that the epidemic is over, although this is far from the case.”
France is not an isolated case. “European countries are seeing the first consequences of the negligence of their policies regarding the fight against the pandemic.”condemned epidemiologist Antoine Flahaud on twitter. Faced with rising infections, Austria has decided to reintroduce indoor masking.
“We must act quickly with this virus. We don’t have to wait for him to move forward. We have gained ground. From wave to wave we are gaining strength. Our goal today is not to lose a single one.”Anne-Claude Cremieux, infectious disease specialist
The government defends its decision
With most of the restrictions lifted, the government “made the right decision”Health Minister Olivier Veran assured Franceinfo. “We knew there would be a risk of a rebound”he relativized, refusing to see “correlation” between lifting restrictions and rising numbers of new cases. The Minister of Health cited the example of Germany and Italy, which “surviving the outbreak of an epidemic while they retained a health pass and sometimes a vaccination pass” as well as “that they kept wearing masks in closed places”.
Olivier Veran also explained that his management of the epidemic was based on “models of the Pasteur Institute”. These models say that “until the end of March it will grow, we risk reaching 120-150 thousand infections per day, and then we expect a decrease”he protected. However, these models are based on forecasts potentially “too optimistic”as stated in a study published online by the Pasteur Institute.
There is “no place” take measures to curb the epidemic, he still has Parisian. The minister again said he was expecting “See pollution rising until the end of March and then dropping in April.”. Olivier Veran took the opportunity to challenge the idea that the lifting of restrictions was a gesture during the presidential campaign.
“If we had kept the measures, some would have denounced the pre-election maneuver to maintain a level of fear supposedly good for the president. When we cancel them, the same people tell us that this is an election campaign.”Olivier Veran, Minister of Health
The leader’s future schedule is clear: “If we found that among 65-80-year-olds the incidence rate would increase, that the rebound would not last two weeks, but three or four weeks, we would ask ourselves this question again.” Olivier Veran also specified that the government and health authorities “encourage vulnerable people to continue wearing a mask”.