Will we all end up being infected with the Covid-19 virus? According to the latest data from Public Health France, 2,833.1 positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants were recorded in seven days, between January 4 and 10. This is, once again, the highest national incidence rate ever reached since the start of the pandemic. And again, it is 1.5 times lower than that recorded in the Val d’Oise (4,297.4/100,000) over the same period. If around twenty departments have an incidence rate higher than that calculated nationally, such as Savoie (4,133) and Rhône (3,643.6), all record more than 1,000 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
Of all the epidemic waves, this is unheard of. The current level of contamination is more than five times higher than the peak of the second wave, the one that occurred during the winter of 2020 and which led to a confinement of the population threatening the Christmas holidays. Radical change of strategy today: the government is putting the package on vaccination, in particular the recall campaign and the primary vaccination of the most refractory. More than 52 million French people are thus completely vaccinated against Covid-19 and among them, 29.5 million have already received their booster dose.
A protection which allows, as underlined by the experts of Public Health France, to reduce the ratio of hospitalizations among the symptomatic positive cases. It is currently 2 hospitalizations per 100 cases compared to 6/100 at the very beginning of the fifth wave and 8/100 during the fourth wave last summer. An evolution which would also testify, according to Public Health France, of a lesser severity of the virus, in particular of the new variant Omicron. This one appears much more contagious than Delta, but much less lethal. The drop in the ratio of hospitalizations among symptomatic cases can also be explained by a much denser viral circulation among young people, who are less vulnerable and therefore less likely to develop severe forms of Covid-19.
Should the screening system be revised?
If the hospital data under the Omicron era are reassuring for the moment, the daily censuses of new positive cases make this variant an unstoppable viral strain. The queues in front of pharmacies and analysis laboratories are constantly getting longer… even if it means being counterproductive by creating contact cases among people who are patiently waiting to be tested. Sign that our screening system is reaching saturation point? Probably according to Swiss epidemiologist Antoine Flahault. In an interview with Capital this week, the director of the Geneva Institute for Global Health said he feared the arrival of a “pseudo peak” or “pseudo plateau”: “above 400,000 positive cases for example, the France might be unable to detect more each day. At that point, the curve is artificially plane by creating a peak which in reality is not one. Maybe it goes up to 500 or even 600 or 700,000 contaminations per day but no one sees it.
The latter rather recommends monitoring similar to the flu, which seems already planned in Spain due to a drop in lethality with the Omicron variant. For its part, Public Health France also does not rule out an overhaul of the surveillance of Covid-19 according to the evolution of the epidemic in the weeks to come. “For the moment, international discussions show that most countries continue to follow cases at the individual level but reflections are underway both at national and international level under the aegis of the WHO or the ECDC”, explains Didier Che, the deputy director of the infectious diseases department at the health watch institute. However, the latter recalls that a multitude of indicators are produced to describe the epidemiological situation and that they should not be interpreted in isolation. If the incidence rate is dependent on the combination between the screening rate and the positivity rate, for example, other data such as the use of care can provide a snapshot of the epidemic.
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