France’s hospitals have reached a “tipping point” in the fight against Covid-19 and the second wave “is here”, the head of the country’s biggest A&E union has warned.
The comments from François Braun, president of France’s Samu-Urgences union mirror those of UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who on Sunday warned that Britain faced national lockdown unless people respected distancing rules.
The Gallic alarm call came after France registered 13,500 new daily infections on Saturday - a record since lockdown. The proportion of people testing positive rose slightly to 5.6 per cent. Last week also saw a rise in hospital deaths week on week for the first time since the end of confinement in May.
The national health body, Santé France, said there had been a “rise in all indicators” linked to the virus and a “probable underestimation” of the number of new cases due to test centres reaching saturation levels.
More than 55 of France’s départements, or counties, are now deemed infection “red zones” and several towns have tightened restrictions, including earlier closing times for bars and restaurants.
“For the past ten days, we’ve witnesses a pretty significant rise in cases and this rise is constant from one day to the next,” Mr Braun told Le Parisien.
“The second wave is here and there is still time to prepare for it (in hospitals).”
While the rise was “not the tidal wave we saw in March” as intensive care units are in the main not yet saturated, “we can sense we have reached a tipping point,” he added, pointing out that hospitals in Paris and Montpellier have just reactivated their emergency Covid “white plans” to free up beds.
The worst could be avoided if people strictly respect social distancing and mask-wearing, but emergency services “expect a complicated month of October,” he warned. “We are anything but serene.”
In France, people face fines of €135 (£124) for not wearing masks in public transport but President Emmanuel Macron has shied away from more draconian measures, such as the UK Government’s decision to impose fines of up to €10,000 for failure tor respect self-isolation rules.
Amid rising infection levels, however, Paris police this weekend warned bars and restaurants they faced administrative closure if they failed to respect distancing rules, including spacing between tables, a maximum of ten per table and ensuring customers donned masks while standing up.
Mr Braun warned that health workers who battled valiantly in March were once again “exhausted and demoralised” as it emerged hospitals were having trouble recruiting enough medical staff.
“I can’t understand why we haven’t learned the lessons in terms of hospital organisation from the first wave,” he said.
Less alarmist, Aurélien Rousseau, head of the Paris region health agency, said that while “tension levels have reached maximum levels”, “we will not see a remake of the first wave, rather a second season of the epidemic”.
On the plus side, patients were better treated, less often hospitalised or placed on ventilators in intensive care and for shorter times, he said. Hospitals will be sorely tested, however, because “there is no question of deprogramming non-Covid treatment”.
The infection rate in the French capital now stands at 160 per 100,000 inhabitants but the R level remains stable, he added.
Some 20 per cent of intensive care beds are now occupied by patients with Covid, he said.
Amid complaints of long waiting times and huge queues for tests, Paris is to open on Monday a further 20 testing centres and mobile teams will pre-select those queuing with symptoms or who have come into direct contact with an infected person.