COVID-19 RECOVERY

Pasteur Institute confident France will be spared virus rebound over summer

Swimmers in Nice, on the French Riviera, celebrate as beaches are reopened following the end of the first coronavirus lockdown in May, 2020.
Swimmers in Nice, on the French Riviera, celebrate as beaches are reopened following the end of the first coronavirus lockdown in May, 2020. AFP - VALERY HACHE

As Europe eases travel restrictions with a view to boosting tourism this summer, researchers at France’s Pasteur Institute say they’re confident coronavirus infections will remain under control until at least the autumn. 

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Updated projections from the 134-year-old research centre, which earlier warned against France reopening too soon, put the risk of a fourth virus wave at almost zero – thanks to a steady drop in the number of cases over the past month, coupled with an accelerated vaccination drive.

"If we keep seeing a decline in infections and hospitalisations until June 9 – while maintaining or increasing the rate of vaccination – we do not expect to see a significant resumption of the epidemic this summer,” the institute said.

The optimism comes despite the spread of the British coronavirus variant, which was responsible for France’s third virus wave during the winter and is estimated to be 60 percent more contagious.

"In all the scenarios explored, if there is a rebound linked to the B117 (British) variant during the summer, it is expected to be smaller than the third wave of the pandemic,” the institute said.

The latest modelling is a departure from warnings back in April, at the peak of the third wave, when researchers said easing restrictions on 15 May could cause a “significant rebound” in the number of Covid patients being hospitalised.

Back in business

Buoyed by an ongoing drop in new cases, however, the government on Wednesday allowed restaurant terraces, cinemas and museums to reopen for the first time in six months. Non-essential shops also began trading again, while a night-time curfew was pushed back to 9pm.

Pasteur Institute epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the Scientific Council that advises the government on its Covid strategy, said France would enter a “new era” of the epidemic if the number of daily infections fell below 5,000 by mid-June.

So far, moves to step up the pace of vaccinations have seen 23 million doses administered to more than a third of the French population. By 15 June, half of the country is expected to be vaccinated.

To avoid a resurgence of the virus in the autumn and winter, when transmission rates are at their strongest, the institute said the vast majority of French people would need to be vaccinated by September. 

Researchers and health authorities are also monitoring the Indian, South African and Brazilian variants of the virus, which have the potential to derail France’s coronavirus recovery.

EU travel pass deal

Meanwhile the European Union moved a step closer to reviving quarantine-free movement within the bloc after reaching a deal on an EU “travel pass”.

Aimed at boosting travel after months of restrictions, the trans-border travel certificates – which may be presented on a smartphone or in paper form – should be available by 1 July.

The certificates will act as proof that a traveller has been vaccinated, has recently tested negative for coronavirus, or has developed natural immunity after recovering from Covid. 

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