France warns ‘supersonic’ rise in Covid cases shows no sign of slowing

Infections have reached ‘stratospheric levels’ in several regions, government says

The French government has warned that the rapid rise in Covid cases is showing no signs of slowing down. (AP Photo / Thibault Camus)

France’s “supersonic” rise in Covid-19 cases is set to continue with no signs of a slow down, a French government spokesman has warned.

Aside from the UK and the US, France is the only country to declare more than 200,000 Covid infections in a single day as the highly transmissible Omicron variant continues to run rampant.

France reported a record 271,686 cases on Tuesday, breaking its previous record. Britain on Wednesday reported 194,747 further cases of COVID-19 and 334 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data.

The deaths figures reported on Wednesday included four days of hospital data for England as the data catches up after a seasonal holiday.

Gabriel Attal, spokesman for President Macron’s administration, said on Wednesday cases had reached “stratospheric levels” in the Ile-de-France region around Paris and some other parts of the country. He warned of a worsening crisis in hospitals over the coming weeks.

“Our epidemic is still far from over,” Mr Attal said. “This supersonic rise in contamination will continue over the next few days, and even into the next few weeks.”

Mr Attal said that the government has decreed a health state of emergency in the French regions of Guadeloupe, Guyana, Mayotte, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélémy, where the infection rate is soaring.

At the end of December, a health state of emergency was declared in La Réunion and was extended in Martinique, where it has been in place since mid-July.

His comments came after President Emmanuel Macron used controversial language to describe how he intends to persuade unvaccinated people to get a Covid shot.

“The unvaccinated, I really want to hassle them. And so we will continue doing so, to the end. That’s the strategy,” Le Parisien newspaper quoted the French leader as saying, in an interview at the presidential Elysee Palace with a panel of its readers.

His comments complicated the already difficult passage in parliament of the government’s planned new vaccine pass. If approved, the mandatory certificate would see unvaccinated people banned from places such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and sports arenas. The pass would also be required on inter-regional trains and buses, and domestic flights.

Mr Attal defended the government’s vaccination-led strategy, which he said had permitted “the feat of reconciling a maximum circulation of the virus with minimal restrictions”.

Infections rise across Europe

While France is currently the worst affected EU country in the fourth wave of Covid, other nations have also seen infections rise exponentially.

On Wednesday Covid infections in the Netherlands reached a record high of around 24,500, official data showed.

Infections were up almost 60 per cent from last week despite a tight lockdown that has seen all but essential stores closed since December 19.

The lockdown has driven down the number of coronavirus patients in Dutch hospitals to their lowest levels in two months but experts expect admissions to increase again soon due to the rapid rise in infections.

On Tuesday Italy recorded 170,844 cases, up from 68,052 the day before, and 259 fatalities, against 140 the previous day.

Germany is also grappling with a sudden rise in cases and is poised to sharpen contact curbs to tackle an expected surge in infections in coming weeks, even as protests against pandemic measures spread.

“A tightening will unfortunately be needed to face the powerful wave that is bearing down on us,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach was quoted as saying late on Tuesday by the RND media group. He has repeatedly warned of the threat posed by Omicron.

French President Emmanuel Macron ruffled feathers when he vowed to 'harass' unvaccinated people by making life difficult for them.  AFP

His comments came as the country’s health authorities declared 61,905 new cases.

Finland is dealing with a surge in cases which has caused testing protocols to effectively collapse under the strain of the latest Covid wave.

Most people now have to wait three to four days for a test appointment, rendering track and trace efforts meaningless, Finland’s health authorities said.

Half of PCR tests taken in the capital Helsinki, where Omicron accounts for 90 per cent of infections, are coming back positive.

On Tuesday the Nordic country declared 5,492 infections.

Updated: January 5th 2022, 4:20 PM