PARIS (Reuters) – The coronavirus is spreading across France faster than at the height of the first spring wave, a government science adviser said on Friday in one of the most severe alerts to date on the magnitude of the resurgence engulfing Europe.
France reported 41,622 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a new daily record, and will cross the cumulative 1,000,000 people on Friday – a grim step for the government as it and other European capitals fight to keep their economies open.
The warning from epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet came as the country’s finance minister said the economy was likely to decline again in the fourth quarter due to the nighttime curfew and other restrictions imposed to tame the virus .
“The virus is circulating faster than in the spring,” Fontanet, who sits on the Scientific Council and advises the government on its COVID response, told BFM TV.
France’s three-month lockdown had brought the virus under control, Fontanet said, but with it came a false sense of security during the summer. At the end of July, the number of cases was on the rise again, although it was a cold snap that changed the trajectory of the disease, he added.
“There was a cold week in September and all indicators turned the wrong way again across Europe. The virus spreads best in the cold because we live more indoors, ”he said.
France’s healthcare system is flexing again under pressure, even though doctors say the average stay of a COVID patient in the intensive care unit is twice as short as at the peak of spring, as doctors learn to fight better against disease.
COVID patients occupy nearly half of the country’s 5,000 intensive care beds.
“It is possible that the second wave is worse than the first”, warned Martin Hirsch, head of Parisian public hospitals on RTL. “No one can say when the peak will come.”
” SEE YOU SOON, I HOPE “
The warning from Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire about a strong risk of a contraction in the French economy, the second largest in the euro area, in the fourth quarter, highlighted concerns that a double-dip recession could loom for the single currency block.
French business activity contracted more sharply than expected in October, according to data from IHS Markit, with companies unlikely to embark on large-scale projects.
“As the European winter approaches, the prospect of a sharp drop in new positive cases and a full reopening of the economy seems unlikely,” said Eliot Kerr, economist at IHS Markit.
France will extend a curfew to 38 other administrative services from midnight Friday. In total, two-thirds of the country’s 67 million inhabitants will be confined indoors every night from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. until early December.
The mayor said the curfews would cost the government 2 billion euros ($ 2.37 billion) in financial assistance to businesses.
The curfew is particularly detrimental to the hotel sector. Many restaurateurs are closing their doors rather than limping with reduced service.
“We hope to see you soon,” Michelin-starred chef Michel Sarran wrote in a notice declaring his restaurant to be closed indefinitely.
(1 USD = 0.8442 euros)