Covid-19 in France

Covid-19: avoid large gatherings for Christmas says French scientific council

The French scientific advisory body has released its recommendations for curbing the spread of Covid-19 over the Christmas holiday season. Limiting the number of guests, airing rooms and self-testing are among the suggestions. 

Nurses tend to a patient, infected with the Covid-19 virus, in an intensive care unit of the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris on November 30, 2021.
Nurses tend to a patient, infected with the Covid-19 virus, in an intensive care unit of the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris on November 30, 2021. AFP - THOMAS SAMSON

The Omicron variant, which "appears to spread extremely quickly," will have an impact on France in the coming weeks, the scientific advisory council warned in its report published by the French health ministry on Monday.

Health authorities estimate the number of hospitalisations in connection with the fifth wave, already underway due to the Delta variant, could rise to 2,000 per day, on par with the autumn period in 2020.

Martin Hirsch, head of Paris's AP-HP hospitals group told RTL radio on Monday that the sixth wave, which is Omicron, "will come later, in January."

"It is therefore essential to avoid, in the coming weeks, the development of clusters which would accelerate this phenomenon," the council said.

For the second year in a row, for family gatherings at Christmas time, the council recommends limiting the number of participants, and airing rooms regularly.

Where possible, it says to avoid gatherings in closed spaces where masks cannot be worn consistently.

To be on the safe side, people are encouraged to carry out a self-test or an antigenic test prior to receiving guests or visiting relatives and to stay at home if symptoms appear.

Traditional Christmas market in Strasbourg, eastern France (illustration)
Traditional Christmas market in Strasbourg, eastern France (illustration) © AP/Jean François Badias

The council also recommends making sure elderly or fragile people have had their booster shot.

"Reinforcing social distancing, even the tiniest bit, from remote working to reducing contacts can have a positive impact on the health situation," the council wrote.

"A collective effort will reduce the possibility of having more restrictive measures later on."

The French prime minister Jean Castex last Tuesday outlined the measures in place for the coming period, which included more remote working, mask wearing in schools and nightclub closures for a month. He avoided putting in place a lockdown or curfew.

Shadow of Omicron

The Omicron variant will complicate matters considerably however, according to the scientific council.

Hospitals and intensive care units are filling up rapidly with Covid-19 patients, the public health agency Santé Publique France said adding that 1,505 of them were admitted on Monday.

In total, 14,527 beds are dedicated to Covid-19 patients across France. In intensive care, 379 new patients were admitted on Monday, bringing the total to 2,752.

231 people died in hospital on Monday, compared to 48 the previous day, bringing the overall total to more than 120,000.

Meanwhile, the vaccination campaign is progressing: 77.6 percent of the population has had at least one dose, 76 percent has had two doses.

15 December deadline

However, it has been noted that 5 percent of the 8.5 million people in the 65+ age group still have not received their third jab.

They will need to top up their vaccination by the 15 December in order to keep the health pass valid, the government has said.

Health minister Olivier Véran said that over 65s don't need appointments to get a third dose.

For the rest of the adult population, the deadline for the booster has been set for 15 January.

With regards to vaccines, the scientific council said it was important to get the booster shot as soon as possible, no later than seven months after the previous dose, and that it was possible to mix vaccines.

A dose of Moderna is currently at 50 µg. "It could be increased in the coming weeks to 100 µg to provide better immunity in the case of the Omicron variant," the council said.

For January, the council recommends a change of strategy for testing in schools; systematic testing could be more efficient, despite the logistical difficulties, as it would allow for cases with no symptoms to be revealed.

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