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March 9, 2021

Paris hospitals face virus emergencies


March 9, 2021

PARIS: Hospitals in the Paris region have been ordered to cut all non-Covid patient care and surgery by 40 percent as new virus cases risk overwhelming their intensive care capacity, health authorities said on Monday.

The Ile de France greater Paris region, which counts about 12 million inhabitants, currently has 973 Covid patients in intensive care compared with a capacity set aside for virus cases of 1,050, the director-general of the ARS regional health service, Aurelien Rousseau, told AFP.

"This is a very tense situation," he said. Since a spike in the number of virus infections two weeks ago, daily admissions into intensive care have been between 70 and 80 patients, but only half that number at most were being discharged, leading to a daily net increase of 35.

At that growth rate, current hospital and clinic Covid capacity will be exhausted as early as this week. "We needed to react very fast," said Rousseau, who gave "a firm and immediate order" to cancel 40 percent of scheduled hospital care. The move will take capacity to 1,577 Covid intensive care spots by next week, he said.

The order comes as the French government has been scrambling to avoid another national lockdown although Covid infections remain stubbornly high.

On Sunday 21,825 new cases were reported in the previous 24 hours and 130 new deaths. Vaccination centres stayed open at the weekend as Prime Minister Jean Castex called for "a national mobilisation" to boost the number of inoculations.

So far France has administered around 5.5 million doses of the three vaccines authorised for use -- Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca/Oxford University -- according to government figures.

On Monday, Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said that weekly vaccine deliveries to France would go above two million doses within two weeks. This meant that 30 million people -- two thirds of the French adult population -- could be vaccinated by the end of June, she said.

As the country waits for vaccinations to make a dent in infection statistics, the government has resorted to regional weekend lockdowns, with the latest one affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the north of the country.

There has been speculation about a similar move coming for the greater Paris region, but so far the government has appealed to people to behave responsibly, and police banned the consumption of alcohol outdoors in the capital to try to reduce the crowds gathering to enjoy the spring sunshine.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Airlines (SA) will begin trialling a coronavirus digital travel pass developed by aviation’s industry body next week, the carrier said on Monday, the first airline to pilot the scheme as the pandemic-hit sector seeks to recover.

The app, developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), will store information on passengers’ health, including whether they have had virus tests or vaccines, to streamline travel as borders reopen.

Singapore’s flag carrier said it would offer travellers heading from the city-state to London between March 15 and 28 the chance to participate in the pilot if they have a phone operating on the iOS system. "Our partnership with Singapore Airlines for the first full deployment of the IATA Travel Pass will help get the world flying again," said Nick Careen from the industry body.

The virus has plunged the industry into its worst-ever crisis, costing airlines an estimated $510 billion in lost sales last year. Participants in the pilot scheme will need to take pre-departure Covid-19 tests, and will be able to view their results and whether they are confirmed to fly on the app.

They will need to show their confirmed status in the app to check-in staff before their flight. Several other airlines, including Air New Zealand and Emirates, have signed up to trial the app.

In a related development, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma have tested positive for Covid-19 after experiencing mild symptoms, the presidency said on Monday. "After experiencing mild symptoms that resemble... Covid-19, President al-Assad and first lady Asma Al-Assad took a PCR test, and the result showed that they are infected with the virus," the presidency said in a statement.

"They are in good health and their condition is stable," it said, adding that the couple will quarantine for up to three weeks. Assad is 55 and his wife is 10 years his junior. Their positive test results came more than a week after Syria started vaccinating frontline health workers using jabs delivered from an unidentified "friendly state".

The government has recorded 15,981 cases of Covid-19, including 1,063 deaths in government-held areas. Meantime, Italy surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 official coronavirus deaths, amid warnings the spread of new variants is fuelling a fresh wave of infections.

Just over a year since it became the first European country to be overwhelmed by Covid-19, Italy´s health ministry recorded another 318 virus-related deaths, taking the total to 100,103. The figure is almost certainly an underestimate of the true toll, but is nevertheless shocking.

When the pandemic started, "we could have never imagined that after a year ... the official death toll would have neared the terrible threshold of 100,000," said Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who took over last month.