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COVID-19 VACCINES

France ‘can manage fifth Covid wave without extra restrictions’

France is dealing with a fifth wave of Covid-19, government spokesman Gabriel Attal has admitted as new daily cases rise, hitting an average of 10,000 new cases per day for the first time since September.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Covidtracker statistics show that the current seven-day rolling daily average of cases is 10,031, up 38 percent week on week. Daily figures for Tuesday, November 16th, alone, jumped above 20,000, although daily rates can fluctuate due to reporting anomalies.

“We knew that this wave could happen, the situation in some countries sounded a warning,” Attal said after the weekly ministers’ meeting.

He added: “The incidence rate is particularly high in Corsica, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Pays-de-la-Loire.”

The incidence rate has exceeded 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 21 départements, according to Santé Publique France – and averages 105 nationally, while the R rate is currently 1.26. 

Any R rate figure greater than one indicates that the virus is spreading again, rather than being in retreat.

“The epidemic is accelerating everywhere and the virus is gaining ground,” Attal said. But, he added: “We’re crossing each wave better than previous ones.”

He went on: “We are learning each time how to manage this epidemic, (…) each time we have new tools which allow us to contain this epidemic and, in particular, its impact on hospitals.”

In common with other European countries, high vaccination rates mean that the proportion of Covid patients ending up in hospital or dying is much lower than in previous waves.

On November 9th, 6,912 patients with Covid-19 were hospitalised in France, a three percent week-on-week increase from the 6,741 hospitalisations recorded on November 3rd, Santé Publique France revealed in its last weekly statement on the pandemic. Intensive care cases were up four percent week-on-week, from 1,104 on November 2nd to 1,153 on November 9th. 

Latest Covidtracker figures indicate 1,277 people were in critical care on November 16th, with new admissions running at 85 per day. The death toll from the virus currently averages 36 per day.

Attal pointed out that, at this time last year, France was in a period of lockdown.

“The number of new cases [in 2020] was in the tens of thousands. And we were reaching a record number of patients hospitalised with Covid.

“We are light years away from this situation today. We owe it to the vaccine, to the health pass and, of course, to everyone’s efforts. We therefore have all the cards in the face of this fifth wave,” he added.

“The tools we have – the health pass, vaccination, booster doses – allow us to be confident. But we have to continue our efforts – they can get us through the winter without additional measures.”

On November 17th, 2020, France recorded an average of more than 16,600 confirmed cases every day – against a little more than 10,000 today, according to data from CovidTracker.

But healthcare systems in France are under less pressure. Some 7,535 people are currently hospitalised with Covid-19, compared to more than 33,000 at this time last year.

Attal said that there had been a rise in the number of people getting vaccinated. “Appointments for a first injection (of vaccine) have increased 20 percent,” he said. “This is a very good sign.”

In addition, a record 200,000 booster doses were administered yesterday across the country, Attal said. 

In total, 51,575,242 people had received at least one dose of vaccine as of November 15th, according to the Health Ministry, with 50,491,909 people having had two doses.

A further 4,619,325 eligible people have had their third booster dose.

From December 1st, people aged 50-64 who have been doubly vaccinated against Covid-19 for at least six months can get a booster dose. Booking slots for December have just opened on the medical appointment platforms.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges on Thursday dismissed legal challenges to Italy's vaccine mandate as "inadmissible” and “unfounded”, as 1.9 million people face fines for refusing the jab.

Italy's constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges were asked this week to determine whether or not vaccine mandates introduced by the previous government during the pandemic – which applied to healthcare and school staff as well as over-50s – breached the fundamental rights set out by Italy’s constitution.

Italy became the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

The Constitutional Court upheld the law in a ruling published on Thursday, saying it considered the government’s requirement for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated during the pandemic period neither unreasonable nor disproportionate.

Judges ruled other questions around the issue as inadmissible “for procedural reasons”, according to a court statement published on Thursday.

This was the first time the Italian Constitutional Court had ruled on the issue, after several regional courts previously dismissed challenges to the vaccine obligation on constitutional grounds.

A patient being administered a Covid jab.

Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

One Lazio regional administrative court ruled in March 2022 that the question of constitutional compatibility was “manifestly unfounded”.

Such appeals usually centre on the question of whether the vaccine requirement can be justified in order to protect the ‘right to health’ as enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

READ ALSO: Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Meanwhile, fines kicked in from Thursday, December 1st, for almost two million people in Italy who were required to get vaccinated under the mandate but refused.

This includes teachers, law enforcement and healthcare workers, and the over 50s, who face fines of 100 euros each under rules introduced in 2021.

Thursday was the deadline to justify non-compliance with the vaccination mandate due to health reasons, such as having contracted Covid during that period.

Italy’s health minister on Friday however appeared to suggest that the new government may choose not to enforce the fines.

“It could cost more for the state to collect the fines” than the resulting income, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci told Radio Rai 1.

He went on to say that it was a matter for the Economy and Finance Ministry, but suggested that the government was drawing up an amendment to the existing law.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

The League, one of the parties which comprises the new hard-right government, is pushing for fines for over-50s to be postponed until June 30th 2023.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had promised a clear break with her predecessor’s health policies, after her Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic in 2021 when it was in opposition.

At the end of October, shortly after taking office, the new government allowed doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work earlier than planned after being suspended for refusing the Covid vaccine.

There has been uncertainty about the new government’s stance after the deputy health minister in November cast doubt on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, saying he was “not for or against” vaccination.

Italy’s health ministry continues to advise people in at-risk groups to get a booster jab this winter, and this week stressed in social media posts that vaccination against Covid-19 and seasonal flu remained “the most effective way to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially the elderly and frail”.

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