Thursday 26 November, 2020

Virus infections rise at French nursing homes

People queue to be tested for the COVID-19 outside a district town-hall in Paris, Monday, Sept.21, 2020. French health authorities have started opening new testing centers in the Paris region to try to reduce queues and delays as the number of infections is steadily increasing in the country. In total, they are planning to open 20 new testing centers in the French capital and in the suburbs this week. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

People queue to be tested for the COVID-19 outside a district town-hall in Paris, Monday, Sept.21, 2020. French health authorities have started opening new testing centers in the Paris region to try to reduce queues and delays as the number of infections is steadily increasing in the country. In total, they are planning to open 20 new testing centers in the French capital and in the suburbs this week. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

France's weak spot: Virus infections rise at nursing homes

For the first time in months, virus infections — and deaths — in French nursing homes are on the rise again.

Families fear that French authorities haven't learned enough lessons from the initial wave of the pandemic, when nursing homes shuttered elderly residents inside and staff were short of protective equipment.

Of the 31,338 people confirmed to have died in France with the virus this year, more than 14,000 — or nearly half — lived in nursing homes.

President Emmanuel Macron was visiting a nursing home in the town of Bracieux in central France on Tuesday, as the government tries to manage resurgent infections while insisting that the country should be back at school and work and should "learn to live with the virus."

That strategy is under increasing strain.

France is now reporting several thousand new virus cases a day and more than 80 weekly new cases per 100,000 people, among the highest rates in Europe, which itself is seeing the virus spread rapidly.

More importantly, the number of virus patients in French hospitals and in intensive care units is steadily rising again. Although hospitals are far from their peak admissions and are better prepared this time around, some COVID wards in hotspots like Marseille are filling up.

While France's surge of post-lockdown summer infections centred mainly on younger people, the public health agency Sante Publique says cases are now rising fastest among those over 75, considered the most vulnerable to severe COVID-related health problems.

Nursing homes reported dozens of new virus clusters and 89 virus-related deaths the week of September 7, the first significant rise in months, according to the agency's latest figures. Six of the deaths were in a single nursing home in the Occitanie region of southern France. More and more French nursing homes are shutting their doors again to visitors.

The health agency warned that mounting virus clusters and deaths in nursing homes and increasing cases among people over 75 are "major warning signs" to the public to better protect themselves and their elders.

Like Britain and some other countries, France is also struggling with testing logjams. A massive testing effort has helped identify more confirmed cases but labs are struggling to keep up with demand.

It takes as much as a week or more for virus test results in Paris and some other French cities to come back.

The health agency says those delays mean the real case count of new infections is even higher – and is damaging medical authorities' efforts to trace contacts and stop the spread of the virus.  

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