By Benoit Van Overstraeten
PARIS (Reuters) – The COVID-19 virus is spreading more quickly than during its initial outbreak in the spring, French government scientific advisor Arnaud Fontanet said on Friday, in one of the starkest warnings yet about the scale of the disease’s resurgence engulfing Europe.
“The virus is circulating more quickly …The resurgence of the pandemic started in August”, Fontanet, an epidemiologist, told BFM TV, adding the fight against the disease would be a “marathon”.
He spoke the day after France published a record 41,622 daily tally of new COVID-19 infections, bringing the country just shy, at 999,043, of a million cases. France will go over that threshold this Friday, becoming the second Western European country to do after Spain.
Like many other European countries facing a renewed spike in the number of cases since early September, France has ramped up restrictions to contain the disease, announcing Thursday a widening of a curfew, initially put in place in nine cities including Paris, to more than two thirds of its population.,
Fontanet said French authorities had managed to bring the virus under control by the end of the June, adding the hospitalisations figure staying low until the end of August had given a false sense of security despite cases already going up at the time.
“And then there was one cold week in September and all the indicators went the wrong way again all over Europe. The virus spreads better in the cold because we live more inside”, he said.
After reaching a peak of 32,292 on April 14, when France was in the midst of one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, COVID-19 hospitalisations fell to a 4,530 low on August 29. After increasing daily by more than 700 over the last four days, the tally now stands at 14,032, a level unseen since early June.
“Hospitals and medical staff will find themselves in a situation they’ve already known”, Fontanet said, referring to end March-early April peak, when the hospital system was on the verge of collapse.
“We have a lot of tools to protect ourselves against the virus but we’re facing a difficult period”, he added, echoing Prime Minister Jean Castex, who predicted a “tough November” when detailing the new curfew measures.
Like other medical experts, Fontanet said it takes about two weeks for containment measures to have some impact.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Benoit Van Overstraeten; ; editing by John Stonestreet, Phlippa Fletcher)