France sets grim record of more than 200,000 Covid cases in a day

·4-min read
People wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 as they ice skate at a funfair in Paris (AP)
People wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 as they ice skate at a funfair in Paris (AP)

France is seeing a “tsunami” of COVID-19 infections, with 208,000 cases reported over the past 24 hours, a new national and European record, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday.

“This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive,” Veran said.

“We have never experienced such a situation,” he said, describing the increase in cases as “dizzying”.

The situation in French hospitals was already worrying because of the Delta variant, Veran said, with Omicron yet to have an impact, something he said would eventually happen.

“We have two enemies,” he said, referring to the two main variants. “As for Omicron, I would no longer talk about a wave. This is a groundswell, where several waves combine to form one massive wave,” he said.

The flu will further complicate things for hospitals, he added. The minister had to reassure colleagues that he did not have the disease during his statement.

“I’m not ill, I just have a dry throat,” said Veran, who repeatedly coughed during the hearing, triggering nervous laughter from those sitting next to him.

While the government has ruled out a curfew in mainland France, on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, where the number of cases is particularly high, a curfew will be imposed from 9pm to 5am for most of January.

Global Covid infections have hit a record high over the past week as the new Omicron variant races out of control, keeping workers at home in isolation and overwhelming testing centres.

Almost 900,000 cases were detected worldwide on average each day between 22-28 December, with myriad countries posting new all-time highs over the past 24 hours, including the US, Australia and many European nations, according to Reuters data.

Although studies have suggested the Omicron variant is less deadly than some of its predecessors, the huge numbers of people testing positive mean that hospitals in some countries might soon be overwhelmed, while businesses might struggle to carry on operating because of workers having to quarantine.

“Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalisation and deaths,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Tedros told a news briefing on Wednesday.

“I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases.”

Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta all registered a record number of new cases on Tuesday, while the average number of daily Covid cases in the US hit a record 258,312 over the past seven days, according to a Reuters tally on Wednesday. The previous peak was a figure of 250,141 registered in early January, this year.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that 90 per cent of patients ending up in intensive care had not received booster vaccines, which medics say is the best protection against the infectious Omicron.

“The Omicron variant continues to cause real problems, you’re seeing cases rising in hospitals, but it is obviously milder than the Delta variant,” Mr Johnson said.

New daily infections in Australia spiked to nearly 18,300 on Wednesday, eclipsing the previous pandemic high of around 11,300 hit a day earlier.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country needed “a gear change” to manage overburdened laboratories, with long walk-in and drive-in queues reported in a number of areas.

Testing bottlenecks have also built in European nations, including Spain where demand for free Covid testing kits provided by Madrid’s regional government far outstripped, with long queues forming outside pharmacies.

Italy was expected to relax some of its quarantine rules on Wednesday over fears the country will soon grind to a halt given how many people are having to self-isolate protectively, with cases doubling on Tuesday from a day earlier to 78,313.

However, China showed no let up in its policy of zero tolerance to outbreaks, keeping 13 million people in the city of Xi’an under rigid lockdown for a seventh day as new Covid infections persisted, with 151 cases reported on Tuesday.

Many countries are still grappling with the earlier Delta variant, including Poland, which reported 794 Covid related deaths on Wednesday - the highest number in the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Polish Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska said more than 75 per cent of those who died were unvaccinated.

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