France on Wednesday confirmed 25,387 Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the highest daily total in a week. The country is facing a high risk of a rebound in the epidemic as more contagious variants of the virus continue to circulate, health authorities said.
France's cumulative number of confirmed infections has grown to 3,385,622, while the number of coronavirus-related deaths reached 80,443 after another 296 patients died in one day, according to the Xinhua news agency.
Currently, 27,461 people are hospitalised, including 3,319 in intensive care. The two tallies decreased by 216 and 23, respectively, within a day.
In Ile-de-France (Paris Region), the country's most populated zone and its main economic hub, 39 percent of the positive tests are attributable to the Covid-19 variant first detected in Britain, warned Gilles Pialoux, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at Tenon Hospital in Paris.
"We have an incredible surge of the variant in Ile-de-France... We have clusters mixing caregivers and patients," Pialoux told media early on Wednesday.
"The situation is alarming for several reasons. First, we cannot predict the path of these variants and we are very late in France with sequencing. And there are clusters in hospitals, which means bed closures and staff eviction," he said.
The virus variant, first detected in Britain, could be responsible for the majority of new cases from the beginning of March, Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist, told a newspaper in a recent interview.
Fontanet, member of the government's advisory body on Covid-19, added that "difficult months" were still ahead for France.
"The coming weeks will be decisive. The variant will dictate the way forward, it circulates in all age groups and would be 30 per cent more lethal," he said.
Unlike some of its neighbours, France has decided against a new lockdown, betting on a night-time curfew and an intensified vaccination campaign to bring the epidemic under control.
The night-time ban on people's movement, in force since mid-December, was extended by two hours nationwide on January 16 to reduce social mixing. The country has also tightened border controls, ordered the closure of large shopping malls and intensified police patrols to enforce the curfew.
The Health Ministry said on Wednesday that 2,056,572 people had already received the first vaccine dose, representing 3.1 per cent of France's population of 67 million.
A total of 76,415 inhabitants have received the second jab in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of people who have received both vaccine doses to 443,148.
As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in France and some other countries with the already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.
Meanwhile, 242 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 63 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the US, according to information released by the World Health Organization on February 9.
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