France sticks to Covid plans in race between vaccines and contagious variant
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.
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.
Tout est en place pour dans le #CentreDeVaccination de #Clamart. Nous pourrons honorer les rdv de ce lundi. L’Etat nous a livré seulement 170 doses sur les 420 promises. #vaccination #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/0xDPb8LCH3— Jean-Didier Berger (@JD_Berger) January 18, 2021
“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.
Preliminary results from the 1st large-scale sequencing analysis in France indicate the presence of 1-2% of VOC 202012/01 in w01 in the country. This suggests that VOC could become dominant by the end of February in absence of interventions. https://t.co/vfV56gaDwj pic.twitter.com/mbXA0DMlzf— Vittoria Colizza (@vcolizza) January 18, 2021
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”.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe