French government: ‘Grounds for hope’ in Omicron wave of Covid

As France continues to see record numbers of new Covid cases, the government spokesman says there are 'grounds for hope' in the latest situation.

Head-and-shoulders photograph of French Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal
Photo: Bertrand Guay / AFP

“The epidemic is today stronger than ever,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told journalists at his weekly press conference. “Never has the virus circulated so much and been so present. There are now nearly 300,000 cases on average per day, or 2 million a week.”

He cited figures showing the average rate of incidence across the country is now 2,800 per 100,000 people – but said: “Some départements are more affected than others – Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne, Essonne have an incidence rate of more than 4,000.”

But, he went on: “In this ocean of cases, there are some bright spots: Omicron is less severe … the pressure on hospitals is growing, but it is not commensurate with the number of cases being detected. 

ANALYSIS How dangerous are France’s sky-high Covid rates

“We must be careful not to call ‘peak’ too early, but we have real grounds for hope.”

And, a day ahead of a teachers’ strike over Covid rules in schools, he said that the decision to keep schools open as long as possible was the correct one.

“Despite the dizzying numbers of infections, we do not deviate from our course. The goal is to live as normally as possible despite the virus and we are holding this course to keep the country open.”

He admitted that some decisions had been poor in relation to testing to keep France’s schools open, saying: “Some information arrived late, it is true and we understand the fatigue of parents and teachers.”

But he insisted: “When we close classes, we impact children’s health. These are inequalities that are growing between children, thousands of children deprived of a canteen meal. 

“Schools in France have closed half as often as in Germany, three times less than in Italy and four times less than in the United States since the beginning of the crisis. 

“Today, only two percent of schools are closed (…) and we prefer to test rather than close them,” he said, noting that “12 million tests are carried out every week”.

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New Covid wave in autumn ‘virtually certain’ say French experts

The head of the government's new health advisory body says that a surge of Covid cases when the French head back to work after the summer break is virtually certain.

New Covid wave in autumn 'virtually certain' say French experts

Immunologist Brigitte Autran, president of new government health advisory body the Comité de veille et d’anticipation des risques sanitaires (Committee to monitor and anticipate health risks) which has replaced the Conseil scientifique, told Le Parisien that “the Covid epidemic is not behind us” and said that the French would have to get used to “living with” the virus.

The Covidtracker website currently shows that the virus is in decline across France, with the R-rate currently at 0.7 – any figure lower than one indicates that the number of infections is falling.

Autran, whose appointment as head of the new body was confirmed on Wednesday, said that the most likely scenario was for a “new epidemic peak in the autumn”, when people return to work after the summer holidays.

“Will it be due to a new variant or the return of cold weather?” she said. “We are not soothsayers, but it is almost certain that there will be a wave.”

“Today, we must go towards living with it,” she added, reintroducing the French to an expression previously used by President Emmanuel Macron and several ministers.

“This does not mean accepting the deaths or the severity of the disease,” she went on, pointing to the fact that health authorities in France still have “levers to activate” to fight the virus. 

Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent (79.6 percent) of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated against the virus, she said that, “unfortunately there are still too many people who have not been vaccinated or revaccinated.”

And she said the new body would work with the government to improve the public’s access to drugs, such as Paxlovid, and vaccines.

Vaccination is still open to anyone who has not yet had their shots, while a second booster shot is on offer to certain groups including over 60s, pregnant women, those with health conditions or people who are in close contact with vulnerable people.

EXPLAINED Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster shot in France?

The French government in August voted to end to State of Emergency that allowed it to impose measures like travel bans and lockdowns, although further restrictions could be put in place if cases rise again and parliament agrees.