The number of new Covid-19 cases in France has jumped to a record high as the government faces an ongoing backlash against strict measures to halt the spread of the virus.
Santé Publique France, the French public health authority, recorded 16,096 new infections in the previous 24 hours on Thursday evening.
The surge is not entirely due to increased testing; while the authorities claim to be carrying out 1m Covid tests a week, the number of positive results has risen to 6.5%. On 14 August it was 2.4%.
Another indicator is the increase in hospital and intensive care admissions: the French health authority reported an “exponential” rise in the number of new patients requiring emergency treatment.
In Paris, declared a zone of “heightened alert” on Wednesday, the regional hospital authorities warned 20% of surgical operations would have to be postponed from this weekend because hospitals were “approaching saturation” with coronavirus cases.
Last week, Martin Hirsch, the head of the Paris hospital authority, said facilities had hoped that delays in surgery for non-Covid patients could be avoided for the moment.
“What we want to avoid is saturation and the postponing of surgery,” he said. However he admitted if new cases continued to rise – as they have – this would become inevitable.
On Thursday, the French prime minister, Jean Castex, appeared on television to warn the country that the situation was worsening and the population had to adhere to health and protection measures to avoid a return to the worst days of the epidemic in the spring.
In its weekly report, Santé Publique France said in week 38, 14-20 September, there had been an 25% rise in new deaths attributed to Covid-19 in hospitals and nursing homes. The number of new hospital admissions rose by 34% and new intensive care admissions by 40%.
In mainland France, 45 departments are above the 50 per 100,000 population number of confirmed case and 16 above 100/100,000. In Paris, the number of confirmed contaminations had reached 217/100,000.
There was a rise in the virus among the 65+ age group, while an examination of Covid-19 clusters showed most were in workplaces, followed by schools and universities and public and private events and gatherings.
All indicators in the report showed the curves rising again.
In spite of the worsening situation, the government’s decision to order the closure of bars and restaurants in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, deemed a “maximum alert” zone, from Saturday continues to provoke the ire of local officials, bar and restaurant owners.
In a television interview on Thursday evening, Castex promised financial compensation for those businesses forced to close but said the measure was necessary to halt the progression of the virus.
Bars in Paris and several other major towns and cities where the virus is circulating and hospitals are under increasing pressure, have been order to close by 10pm from Monday.
The start of the French Open tennis tournament will go ahead on Sunday, but the number of spectators will be limited to 1,000, in keeping with Covid rules on other sporting events and public gatherings.
The number of deaths in France attributed to Covid-19 is now 31,511, an increase of 52 in the previous 24 hours, according to official figures.