France's overseas territories step up fight against Covid with curfews, restrictions

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French health authorities are on high alert and have stepped up measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the overseas territories of Reunion Island, Guadeloupe and Martinique, where the Omicron variant has now been detected.

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has now become dominant in mainland France, according to national health authorities.

Santé Publique France reported on Thursday evening that "64.4% of tests had a profile compatible with Omicron" at the start of this week, "compared to 15% the previous week."

Although the Delta variant remains predominant in France's overseas territories, the Omicron variant has now been detected and authorities are on high alert.

In the face of a sudden rise in the number of infections across the territories, new restrictions have come into force to curb Covid-19, and a health state of emergency has been extended until March 2022.

Travel restrictions came into effect on Tuesday, 28th of December for all visitors heading to overseas territories from the mainland, in line with a protocol in place for other countries.

A negative PCR test under 24 hours is required for all passengers regardless of vaccination status.

Curfew on La Reunion

Police chief for La Réunion Jacques Billant announced that a curfew would come into place on Saturday,1st of January between the hours of 9pm and 5am for three weeks.

"We must act now to curb the exponential spread of the virus on the island," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

These measures will be added to the ones that are already in place at a national level, and those already in place on the island, such as mandatory mask wearing in public areas.

In addition to the curfew, the prefect said three other restrictions would be applied, notably:

  • All gatherings in public areas are forbidden, including cultural, sporting and commercial events.

  • Private parties and gatherings in rented public spaces such as gyms and community centres are also forbidden.

  • Capacity limits will also be applied to any venue open to the public, depending on their size.

Restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres, museums, libraries, sports centres are allowed only 75 % of their capacity, with six guests maximum per table in bars and restaurants.

"The situation is as worrying as it was in August," the prefect said, referring to an incidence rate of 740 cases per 100,000 people, the highest rate since the beginning of the crisis, with around 700 infections per day.

"We are now referring to hospitals under pressure, with an impact on medical and intensive care services," Billant said, adding that on Tuesday, out of 89 ICU beds, 84 were already occupied, 37 of those with Covid patients.

The regional health agency said that 60 000 people over 50 were particularly at risk because they had not been vaccinated, or had not had a booster shot after four months.

Guadeloupe numbers spike

In Guadeloupe, the number of Covid cases has multiplied by three in the space of a week, with 543 cases detected between the 20th and the 26th of December compared to 203 the week before that.

Nearly 850 cases were reported in less than three days as of 27 December, according to the regional health body director Valérie Denux (ARS).

Although the Delta variant remains dominant, the Omicron variant was detected for the first time on the 17th of December, a fact which "could change quickly over the coming days," Denux said.

From mid July to mid October, the island reported 822 deaths linked to the fourth wave of Covid.

Vaccination levels are also low on te island, with less than 47% of over 18s having received even one dose.

Among health workers, nearly 94% of the 16,500 staff have been vaccinated. Among the 6% of non vaccinated workers, half of them are not in contact directly with patients, the regional health body said.

Health workers are obliged to be vaccinated as of the 31st of December, or risk being suspended from their posts.

The minister for overseas territories Sebastien Lecornu announced last week that a committee would be set up to accompany workers who refused to be vaccinated so that they could leave the profession and find training for other work.

There have been violent protests in Guadeloupe and the neighbouring island of Martinique in recent weeks over rules including obligatory Covid vaccinations for healthworkers that have fed into long-standing local grievances.

Martinique's Omicron spread

The first case of Omircon in Martinique was recorded on the 24th of December, where a health state of emergency has been extended.

According to the regional health body (ARS) on Tuesday, there were 565 positive Covid cases reported during the week 20-26 December. 89 patients have been hospitalised, 36 in intensive care.

The island has reported 779 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Forty percent of the population over 12 has been fully vaccinated.

The police chief Stanislas Cazelles announced on Wednesday that the current curfew of 8pm - 5am would remain in place for the 31 December due to the increasing rate of infections.

Meanwhile, several anti health pass protesters blocked the access to three community centres on Thursday by setting up barricades using branches and debris.

The collective of trade unions involved in the action condemned the mandatory vaccination plan for health workers and the imposition of the health pass.

Two union leaders involved in recent protests died last week after having contracted Covid during trade union meetings.

Alain Decaille, 61, leader of the Martinique taxi organisation, died on 20th of December after three weeks in intensive care. Aimé Agat, union leader representing artists also passed away at the age of 48 after spending time in hospital with Covid.

Meanwhile, French lawmakers have this week begun a debate on transforming the health pass into a vaccine pass by mid-January.

However, French health minister Olivier Véran told the parliament during question time on Wednesday that the government was considering a delay to the health pass rules for overseas territories in light of the lower rate of vaccination and due to logistic concerns.

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