Covid-19 in France

France sticks to Covid plans in race between vaccines and contagious variant

A medical worker holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the hospital in Le Mans as part of the vaccination campaign against the coronavirus causing Covid-19 in France, 14 January 2021.
A medical worker holds a vial of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the hospital in Le Mans as part of the vaccination campaign against the coronavirus causing Covid-19 in France, 14 January 2021. REUTERS - STEPHANE MAHE

France’s government said Tuesday it would avoid the strictest lockdown measures despite gradually increasing Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions, preferring to bank on vaccinations. The spread of a more contagious variant of the new coronavirus seems to have prompted many to get the jab and there are now concerns over delays in delivery. 

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Despite laboratory delays and reports of shortages and logistical problems in its vaccine campaign, France’s government said it would avoid toughening health restrictions even as case numbers and hospital admissions continued to increase.

“We already took a tough decision last week to impose a 6pm curfew on the country as a whole,” health minister Olivier Véran told France Inter radio. “I cannot say we will impose a confinement but the circulation of the virus remains worrying.”

France’s government chose last week to bank on its vaccine campaign preventing future epidemic waves, imposing the earlier curfew but avoiding the strictest lockdown measures

It has sought to broaden the campaign, initially reserved for residents of care homes and health workers over 50, by opening vaccines to anyone over 75.

Reports of vaccine shortages

The expansion makes 5 million people eligible for the vaccine, as well as another 800,000 with high risk conditions such as renal deficiences or cancer are also eligible. 

One million people signed up on the first day of applications on Friday, though not all who wanted the vaccine were able to register. 

As of Monday evening, France reported it had received 1.6 million vaccine doses and administered close to half a million, and Véran said jabs were happening as fast as supplies allowed. 

“Each time doses arrive, they’re immediately made available, with appointments opened up,” the minister said. 

Some mayors said the numbers of arrivals of vaccines did not match those of government reports. 

 

“Contrary to government announcements,” wroite Jean-Didier Berger, mayor of the town of Clamart, on Twitter, the municipality received “170 and not 420 doses”. 

American-German partnership Pfizer-BioNTech said it would speed up production of its vaccine and make up for recent delays in Europe by late January.

Race against UK variant

France’s epidemiological indicators have been showing trends of gradual growth since mid December, with case numbers and ICU occupancy slowly increasing.

Advisors have recommended keeping schools open as long as there is no spike in cases, but public health officials are taking care to monitor for signs of the spread of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus detected first in Britain in December. 

Véran said there were “probably about 2,000 cases” of infection with the new variant in France, around 1.4 percent of new daily infections. 

Public health researcher Inserm published a study on Saturday showing the British variant could become dominant in France between early February and mid March.

Failing to strengthen distancing measures would lead to “new weekly hospitalisations to attain the peak levels seen in the first wave between mid February and early April”. 

“New weekly hospitalisations are expected to reach the level of the first wave’s peak (approximately 25,000 hospitalisations) between mid-February and early April, in absence of interventions,” read an abstract of the study

“These results support the need for strengthened social distancing measures and for accelerating the vaccination campaign to face the threat of the VOC variant.

The Inserm model did not however take into account the vaccination campaign, which it considered “still too limited to slow down the epidemic in a tangible way”. 

(with newswires)

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