Contamination, new variant, Moderna vaccine … Where is the Covid-19 epidemic in France?

This Thursday, the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, will want to give “Visibility”, according to government spokesperson Gabriel Attal. He will speak at the end of the afternoon with the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, on subjects as burning as the dates for the reopening of cultural places, ski resorts, bars and restaurants, which will no doubt not be able to not resume their activity on January 21 as hoped, or even on the curfew. Giving visibility to the sectors affected by the health crisis seems wishful thinking since last spring, the epidemic has proved unpredictable.

A French balance sheet that continues to grow heavier

According to the AFP count, France is the ninth country with the most deaths in the past seven days, with 2,204 deaths (315 per day on average). The country has not fallen below the threshold of 5,000 contaminations per day, set by the President of the Republic in November to consider deconfinement. Today, Public Health France (SPF) account more than 20,000 contaminations daily.

The other critical data is that of the number of people in intensive care. SPF lists 7,583 new hospitalizations over a week, including 1,142 in intensive care. This figure has stagnated since mid-December, but we know that it is out of time by ten days with the current state of circulation of the virus. Since the deconfinement of December 15, France has therefore slowed down the epidemic, but it is no longer decreasing, and the rate of reproduction of the virus remains between 0.9 and 1.1.

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“I am pessimist. If we look at the daily entries in intensive care, we begin to deviate from the plateau in which we were. This corresponds to contamination due to the Christmas period “, estimates Yves Buisson, epidemiologist and president of the Covid-19 cell at the National Academy of Medicine. “The situation is unstable and makes it difficult to forecast the next few weeks”, comments Mircea Sofonea, epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier.

The presence of new variants confirmed

The famous English variant of Sars-Cov-2 is indeed in France. Olivier Véran acknowledged on Tuesday that around ten cases are “Proven or suspected” on the territory. A figure probably largely underestimated as France is so limited in its capacity to detect this variant. “It circulates more than you think. He’s probably all over the country. We do not yet sequence enough in France. We lack a molecular epidemiology surveillance system ”, explains Yves Buisson. The wisest thing is therefore to consider that this strain is rife in France, as among its neighbors.

This variation of the virus, called B117, is problematic car “On estimates that its reproduction rate is 0.4 to 0.7 points higher than the original virus ”, says Mircea Sofonea. Clearly, it is transmitted more quickly. Another point of attention, it would spread – a little – faster among young people under 20.

Several countries in Europe, in the grip of an epidemic outbreak, have taken drastic measures. Germany and England have decided to close schools at the start of the year. A choice which is also explained by “The drastic increase in cases and the need to act strongly to slow down admissions to the hospital”, estimates epidemiologist Lulla Opatowski. Moreover, a recent English study suggests that contamination in schools is the same as in the rest of society.

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To complete the picture, the presence of another variant, this one South African and called 501.V2, has been confirmed in the Haut-Rhin. This strain could also be more contagious, but above all it is suspected of partially escaping antibodies, which would not protect against a second infection or could limit the effectiveness of a vaccine. The only good news is that B117 like 501.V2 does not seem to trigger more severe forms of Covid-19.

A vaccination campaign struggling to accelerate

The great novelty of 2021 is the authorization, in Europe, of two effective vaccines against Covid-19. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Wednesday approved the use of the anticoronavirus vaccine from the American laboratory Moderna, the second to receive this authorization after the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The arrival of this second vaccine, which can be stored at -20 ° C instead of -80 ° C of that of Pfizer, could accelerate a vaccination campaign which is struggling to gain momentum in France. Moderna valued be able to produce 600 million doses in 2021 and hopes to be able to increase its production capacity to one billion.

The detailed results of Moderna’s vaccine, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest a hope that the serum will be effective in blocking the transmission of the disease (in addition to reducing the number of patients). In 54 cases of positive patients without symptoms, 15 had received the vaccine and 39 the placebo. A result to be confirmed. There should be no further vaccine clearance by the end of January. Around the world, other vaccines are used. AstraZeneca’s in the UK or India, for example. Russia, China and India have also authorized their own products.

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Of the million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine received in France, less than 20,000 were used this Thursday at midday, according to the site Covidtracker, against more than 100,000 in Spain, or more than 300,000 in Germany or Italy. The government has promised to spend the second, including by immediately enabling all healthcare professionals over 50 or at risk of receiving the famous injection in hospitals, and no longer only for residents and staff of nursing homes.


Olivier Monod with AFP

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