Covid-19: heading for a sixth wave with the Omicron BA.2 subvariant?

The room of a Covid-19 infected patient at the AP-HP in Clamart, near Paris, on December 23, 2021. (©AFP/Archive/GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT)

No more vaccination passes, almost complete end of the mandatory mask… The French government is preparing to lift most anti-covid restrictions on Monday, March 14, following the example of other European countries, despite the first signs of resumption of the epidemic. Is a 6th wave starting to rise?

During a trip to Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Friday 11 March, Health Minister Olivier Véran spoke about a current epidemic “rebound”.

” We we are currently seeing a revival, in France, in the countries around us, that is, the Covid is no longer falling, it is actually increasing† Given yesterday’s latest figures, it’s about a 20% increase,” he warned.

“We are extremely vigilant”

If the number of patients hospitalized for Covid-19 has continued to fall for several weeks now, “the pace of this decline has begun to slow,” the health minister deciphered. “We are extremely vigilant”he admitted, in a context of increasing contagion, following a trend observed for several days by Public Health France.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal confirmed on Wednesday, at the end of the cabinet meeting, that “the number of cases (…) does not seem to be decreasing anymore”.

Health Minister Olivier Véran during a press conference on the health situation on January 20, 2022 in Paris.
Health Minister Olivier Véran during a press conference on the health situation on January 20, 2022 in Paris. (©AFP/Archive/JULIEN DE ROSA)

The Omicron BA.2 subvariant now the majority in France?

To partially explain the recovery from the epidemic, we must mention two reasons. The first is partly related to less vigilance on the part of the French, which seems quite logical when the end of the restrictions has been announced for weeks.

But we should also note: the rise of “BA.2”, a highly transmissible version of the Omicron variant, which was already highly contagious in its previous incarnation. According to a flash study by Santé Publique France dated March 11, 2022, this Omicron BA.2 subvariant currently represents 52% of infections (during the week of March 7-11, 2022), making it a majority sub-variant, although it has not yet replaced the current Omicron BA.1, which itself replaced the Delta variant.

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The progression of BA.2 to the detriment of BA.1 is observed throughout the metropolitan area, but at different levels depending on the region.

Public Health France

For now, the data on this BA.2 has yet to be consolidated and is only “provisional”. According to several studies, one Danish and one English, the Omicron BA.2 subvariant is more contagious than BA.1, with no current increased risk of severe forms.

But a rebound with more limited consequences?

In relatively optimistic forecasts published Thursday, the Pasteur Institute, whose models serve as the basis for the scientific council that in turn advises the state on the health crisis, also estimated that the effects of this rebound on hospital admissions would be limited by the fact that that Omicron – in its BA2 version as in its previous incarnation – appears significantly less dangerous than its Delta predecessorwhich has now almost completely supplanted it.

Even in the worst case scenario, the Institute estimates that the wave will be far from the peak observed at the beginning of the year with more than 300,000 cases per day.

Further lifting of restrictions on Monday

Despite this context, the government maintains “the lifting of almost all remaining measures from next Monday,” the government spokesman summarized on Wednesday. In particular, the lifting of the vaccination pass in many places and the abolition of the mandatory mask in many sectors.

Two years after the first anti-Covid containment: “we have been waiting for these advances for a long time, the French have been waiting for them, they mark a decisive step”, he welcomed, when restrictions had already been gradually relaxed in recent years in weeks in a context of declining epidemic.

With this huge relief, France is following the lead of several European countries, starting with Denmark, which launched the movement in early January.

No more vaccination passes, almost complete abandonment of the mandatory mask... The French government is preparing to lift most anti-covid restrictions on Monday.
No more vaccination passes, almost complete abandonment of the mandatory mask… The French government is preparing to lift most anti-covid restrictions on Monday. (©AFP/Archives/Pascal GUYOT. No more vaccination cards, almost complete end of the mandatory mask..)

“Electoral Considerations”

But the date chosen seems paradoxical at a time when the epidemic is showing a small rebound and the government had said it wouldn’t stop. end of the vaccination pass only if the epidemic stops advancing

Another condition, mentioned a few weeks ago by the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, is also not fulfilled for the time being. The end of the pass would come for fewer than 1,500 people admitted to intensive care with the Covid virus. More than 1,800 patients were still in this situation this weekend.

Admittedly, if Olivier Véran dampened the enthusiasm of the government on Friday, it is not enough to reassure certain doctors and researchers who regret a relief they find illegible, premature and suspicious of demagoguery a month before the presidential elections in which head of state Emmanuel Macron is running for a new term.

The government obeys more “electoral considerations than public health,” estimated in the paper this week Release epidemiologist Dominique Costagliola.

These researchers are less concerned about the end of the vaccination pass, whose effect on the epidemic remains very uncertain, than about the lifting of the mask requirement. They are especially concerned about the fate of immunocompromised people, for whom vaccination has little effect.

It remains to be seen how the situation will develop in the coming weeks and whether the restrictive measures will return soon.

With AFP

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