Is it too early to take off your mask? Monday, March 14, most anti-Covid restrictions will be lifted. But for several days, certain epidemic indicators have stopped falling or even increased, putting the executive in a balancing act. †The end of obligation does not mean the end of vigilance”said Olivier Véran, on his way to Sables-d’Olonne (Vendée). “I invite French women and men to wear the mask in all circumstances that may expose them or those around them to the risk of contamination”said the health minister.
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Simple plateau, slight rebound or the start of a new wave? Too early to say. But PTo understand this epidemic quake, franceinfo takes stock, with supporting images.
Infections and hospital admissions slightly up
The point on the key indicators, first. The number of new cases of Covid-19 had reached a record at the end of January, with an average of more than 366,000 infections per day. This figure then continued to decline until early March when it failed to get below 50,000 on a moving average. Since ten days, we have even seen an increase in new cases: on March 13, there were 65,000 per day.
As for new hospital admissions, the indicators have stopped falling. After a peak of more than 2,900 hospitalizations in early February, this number dropped to an average of 950 in early March, but a plateau has been observed for more than a week. Even a slight increase: on March 13, there were on average 973 new hospital admissions per day.
These are the only indicators whose evolution is currently in the red. As shown by our dashboard, which tracks all the numbers for the Covid-19 epidemic, ICU admissions and deaths continue to fall after peaking in early February. And it is precisely the evolution of serious forms that will be examined in the coming weeks.
The more contagious subvariant BA.2 predominates
How can this epidemic shaking be explained? Member of the Scientific Council, Arnaud Fontanet, Director of the Epidemiology Department of Emerging Diseases at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, makes a first statement: “a sub-variant of Omicron, BA.2, which is more infectious than its predecessor”he explained to France Inter on Monday. “The Omicron BA.2 variant is 30% more transferable” than the Omicron BA.1 variant, also stated Yazdan Yazdanpanah, head of the infectious diseases department at Bichat Hospital in Paris and member of the Scientific Council.
While the Omicron BA.1 sub-variant has been in the majority since late December, its cousin, the BA.2, is gradually replacing it. It was already in the majority in India or Denmark from the end of January. According to preliminary data from Public Health France’s Flash surveys, it represented 52% of infections in the week of February 28.
A resumption of infection during the back-to-school period
Another statement from the same specialists: the end of the holidays. “The regions where the incidence is starting to rise again are the regions that came back from vacation on February 21”, detailed Arnaud Fontanet on France Inter. Zone B, including notably Hauts-de-France, Grand Est, Paca or Bretagne, has actually increased since that date. Likewise, in the regions of zone C (Ile-de-France and Occitanie), there is an increase in the contamination from March 7, the date of the end of the school holidays.
Reassuring but incomplete forecasts
“This rebound is not a wave”, however, assured the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran. Undoubtedly based on the Institut Pasteur forecasts published on 10 March. Their authors believe that “in all scenarios examined, the pinnacle of cases [en mars] remains well below the January peak”. Other specialists also want to reassure. “Immunity has kicked in”puts into perspective Yazdan Yazdanpanahbecause there is “more than 80% of people who have been vaccinated, 50% who have received a booster dose and a significant proportion, an estimated 40% of the population already affected by the infection”†
In addition, the fourth dose of vaccine, which is now open to people over 80 whose third dose is more than six months old, is “is important” in front of “sustainability of immunity”, insists the infectiologist.
That said, there are still many unknowns. The Institut Pasteur study did not include: “the progressive decline of immunity, which could make” projections “too optimistic”, specify the authors in the preamble† Similarly, “climate impact” was not taken into account in these models, while large epidemic waves hit France in the spring of 2020 and 2021.