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COVID-19 STATS

France’s Omicron wave fuels soaring sales of FFP2 masks

Sales of the heavy-duty FFP2 masks have been soaring in France as the highly-contagious Omicron variant of Covid continues to spread.

France's Omicron wave fuels soaring sales of FFP2 masks
A health worker puts on an FFP2 mask. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

With more than 300,000 new cases recorded in the last 24-hours by Santé Publique France and the return of the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors in many cities, the French are increasingly adopting the heavy-duty FFP2 mask.

The supermarket chain Carrefour has been selling them since February 2021, but supermarket bosses said weekly sales had jumped from 100,000 to 300,000 in the last few weeks, with 55,000 sold in just one day on January 3rd – the day many French people went back to work.

FFP2 masks, previously recommended only for health workers, offer more efficient protection for both the wearer those around them and also has the advantage of being wearable for up to eight hours in a row – as opposed to surgical masks which are supposed to  be changed every four hours.

However, in addition to being almost five times more expensive than a surgical mask, it requires special precautions. It must be properly fitted and not touched to maintain its potential for optimal protection. Hence, so far, the wearing of FFP2 masks was only recommended for health professionals since they are trained in using them.

The French government, on the other hand, does not specifically advocate one mask over another, and mask rules say only that a mask must fully cover the wearer’s nose and mouth – face shields are not counted as masks.

In a note published on December 8th, he French Conseil Scientifique had only suggested that the FFP2 mask was recommended for “vulnerable or non-vaccinated people” in the individual protection measures in the context of the holidays.

The FFP2 has already been compulsory for a year in Germany and Austria and more recently it has become so in Italy and Greece.

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COVID-19

Germany’s weekly Covid infection rate rises above 500

Germany recorded a weekly Covid incidence of more than 500 per 100,000 people on Monday as health experts warn that the fifth wave of the pandemic has only just begun.

Bar in Berlin's Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district, which has the highest incidence in the country.
People sit outside bars in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, where incidences are currently the highest in the country. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

On Monday, the 7-day incidence of Covid infections per 100,000 people stood at 528, up from 515 the day before and 376 a week ago. 

Infections have been rising rapidly as the highly transmissible Omicron variant tightens its hold in Germany. Monday marked the fourth day in a row in which the country posted record incidences.

Since the first incidence of the variant was discovered in the country around seven weeks ago, Omicron has swiftly taken over as the dominant variant in Germany.

It currently accounts for around 73 percent of Covid infections and is expected to almost entirely replace the Delta variant this week. 

Though Omicron generally causes a less severe illness than Delta, experts are concerned that deaths and hospitalisations could remain high due to the unprecedented number of cases Germany could see.

Unlike Delta, Omicron has a large number of mutations that allow it to evade previously built up immunity through vaccinations and illness. 

The World Health Organisation has warned that half of all Europeans could be infected with the virus by spring. 

“After the temporary decline in case numbers, severe disease courses and deaths towards the end of 2021 in the fourth wave, the fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has begun in Germany with the dominant circulation of the omicron variant,” the Robert Koch Institute wrote in its weekly report on Thursday.  

Since the first Omicron case was discovered in Germany, there have been 191,422 suspected or proven cases of the variant.

As Welt data journalist Olaf Gersemann pointed out in Twitter, the number of Omicron cases has increased sixfold within a fortnight. 

Increase in hospitalisations

Before this weekend, Germany had hit its previous peak of infections back in November, when the country posted a 7-day incidence of 485 per 100,000 people at during the peak of the fourth wave.

Since then, Covid measures such contact restrictions and blanket 2G (entry only for the vaccinated and recovered) or 2G-plus (vaccinated or recovered with a negative test) have been relatively effective at turning the tide. 

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For the past few weeks however, infections have been on the up once again as the Omicron fifth wave begins.

The incidence of hospitalisations in the country appears to also be on the rise again after a few weeks of decline. On Friday, the 7-day incidence of hospitalisations stood at 3.24 per 100,000 people, up from 3.13 the day before.

Over the weekend, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned that Omicron could place additional pressure on the general hospital wards as fewer people end up in intensive care. 

“Depending on how things develop, we may face shortages not only in the intensive care units, but also in the normal wards. There is a threat of entire departments being closed,” he said.

“Rapid spread of the virus would mean hundreds of thousands will become seriously ill and we will have to mourn many thousands of deaths again.” 

Karl Lauterbach

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a weekly press conference on Friday, January 14th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld
 

Northern states post record incidences

Since the start of the Omicron wave, northern Germany has been disproportionately affected by the virus.

As of Monday, the city-state of Bremen had the highest incidence in the country, with 1389 new cases per 100,000 people recorded in a week.

This was followed by Berlin, which currently has a 7-day incidence of 948, and Hamburg, which recorded a 7-day incidence of 806. The district with the highest incidence in Berlin Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, which posted a weekly incidence of 1597 on Monday. 

In contrast to the fourth wave, the lowest Covid incidences were recorded in the eastern states of Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. 

On Monday, Thuringia had a weekly incidence of 198 per 100,000 people, while Saxony’s incidence was 249 and Saxony-Anhalt’s was 280.

Somewhat inexplicably, the incidence has been declining in Thuringia in recent weeks, though there is speculation that this could be to do with the fact that Omicron has not yet spread in the state.

Nine of the sixteen German states have incidences of more than 500 per 100,000 people. 

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