Covid-19, what you need to know this week: China under glass

While most countries are living with the virus, China is trapped by its “zero Covid” strategy.


In China, where Sars-CoV-2 originated, life with Covid happens under a glass. Faced with the contagiousness of Omicron, large cities like Shanghai and perhaps soon Beijing are caught in the trap of strategy “zero Covid” imposed by the Chinese authoritarian regime. The inhabitants are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The French are living with the virus. This last keep going, still claiming lives daily, but the pressure on hospital services has eased. It’s time to take stock of “whatever it takes”. Surprise! public spending has increased less than elsewhere, but the support measures have enabled companies to strengthen themselves and avoid the “bankruptcy wall”.

Good reading,

Camille Lestienne, journalist at Figaro.

1. The “zero Covid” trap is closing in on China

In Shanghai, barricades are erected around residential areas. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS / REUTERS

The confined Chinese… They howl their anger at the windows of skyscrapers. The inhabitants of Shanghai have been strictly confined since March without any possibility of getting some fresh air. Some today dare to rebel against health restrictions deemed absurd at the time of Omicron, reports the correspondent of the Figaro Sebastien Falletti. But the authoritarian regime which has erected the “zero Covid” strategy as an example of Chinese superiority over Westerners, persists in putting the country under a bell. Even the capital Beijing is now under threat as a huge testing campaign has been launched. Although there are officially no more than fifty deaths per day in the country and barely 30,000 cases, much less than in France, the trap of “zero Covid” is closing in on the Middle Kingdom. “The number of intensive care beds per inhabitant is twice as low as in France, analyzes epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet. Given the number of elderly people and insufficient vaccination coverage, the Chinese state simply has no choice.»

… and not sufficiently vaccinated. Vaccination is indeed the weak point of the Chinese strategy: despite a fairly high vaccination coverage in the general population, barely more than half of the over 80s are vaccinated. As for the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines, it is called into question, particularly in the long term. “Herd immunity probably cannot be achieved with current vaccines”suggests a Hong Kong researcher who recommends that health authorities“immediately approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, or failing that, administer three injections of the inactivated vaccine”. And this all the more so since the two new sub-lines of the Omicron variant, baptized BA.4 and BA.5, discovered in South Africa threaten the country with a fifth wave. The BA.4 variant is 8% more infectious than BA.2 and BA.5 is 12% more infectious, according to cases analyzed in April in South Africa.

SEE ALSO – China in the dead end of the zero Covid strategy

2. Where is the epidemic in France?

The incidence rate of Covid in France Infographic Le Figaro

How many more deaths? In France, the epidemic continues to decline. All the indicators are down, particularly in intensive care where 1,465 patients were admitted on Wednesday, below the threshold of 1,500 last Tuesday. They were almost 4,000 at the peak of the fifth wave last January. However, there are still 102 deaths in hospital in 24 hours. Will Covid-19 cause as many deaths in 2022 as in 2020 and 2021, as Antoine Flahaut estimates? The journalist of the science department of the Figaro, Vincent Bordenave, was responsible for verifying the words of the famous epidemiologist. If France has already recorded nearly 22,000 deaths due to Covid since January, nothing allows us to say today that the pace will be maintained this year to reach the more than 60,000 deaths of previous years. What else does 2022 have in store for us? “No one can answer these questions, concedes Antoine Flahault. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t prepare better and try to anticipate better”.

Last relief? In the meantime, Gabriel Attal, on Wednesday, hinted at the exit of the Council of Ministers of a next “adaptation» of the latest health measures in force. There remains the obligation to wear a mask in transport, compulsory isolation after a positive test, the obligation to vaccinate for caregivers and the health pass in health establishments.

The numbers to remember

  • 1465 patients in critical care (-33 since the day before)
  • 22.319 hospitalized patients (-530 since the day before)
  • 47.925 new cases detected (67,711 a week ago)
  • 102 deaths in 24 hours in hospital (146,376 dead since the start of the epidemic in hospitals and nursing homes)
  • 53.4 million people have a complete vaccination schedule (79.3% of the population)
  • 41.2 million booster doses administered

Source: Public Health France as of May 4

3. The quote

Everyone was waiting for us and this failure was extremely painful.

Serge Weinberg, boss of Sanofi

Mea culpa from Sanofi. Two years after the start of the pandemic, Sanofi has still not marketed an anti-Covid vaccine. “It is, it must be recognized, a failure (…) compared to the speed that was needed”, admitted Tuesday for the first time Serge Weinberg, the president of the pharmaceutical giant, before the shareholders gathered in general assembly. While its only Covid serum is still under review in the United States and the European Union, Sanofi management has admitted its underperformance. The French laboratory, however, published results in net growth in the first quarter, with a net profit up by more than 28% over one year.

4. The “whatever it takes” balance sheet

Companies have benefited from numerous public support measures during the Covid crisis. Jean-Christophe Marmara / Le Figaro

Public expenses. It’s a surprise, the French government finally spent less than its neighbors during the Covid-19 crisis. Between 2019 and 2021, public spending in euros increased by 10.7% in France, against 14.5% on average in the euro zone (and even 17.6% in Germany), assesses François Ecalle, founder of Fipeco, in a recent note. The “whatever it takes” has indeed been no exception. But the cocorico is quickly swallowed up if we recall, as the former magistrate of the Court of Auditors does, that France faced the pandemic with public finances much more degraded than most of its European neighbors.

Public support. If we want to be proud, we must welcome the public support measures which, although punctual, have in reality had a positive structural effect on French companies. Thanks to them, France will escape the “wall of bankruptcies” announced on numerous occasions since the start of the health crisis. The number of safeguard proceedings, reorganizations and court-ordered liquidations remains low and should only rise gradually to return to a normal rate.

5. Mask and pass

Since March 14, the health restrictions linked to the epidemic have been mostly abandoned. However, mask and pass are still required in some places:

The mask is still required in public passenger transport and health establishments. Wearing a mask is still recommended for positive people and at-risk contact cases, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

The sanitary pass (vaccine, negative test, certificate of recovery) is always requested at the entrance to hospitals, retirement homes and establishments for the disabled.

6. The reflexes to keep

The virus is transmitted by droplets and aerosols. The barrier gestures detailed by the Ministry of Health must be observed to protect themselves and others:

  • Wash your hands regularly or use hydroalcoholic gel
  • Cough or sneeze into the crease of your elbow
  • Use single-use tissues
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Air the rooms as often as possible, at least a few minutes every hour
  • Greet without shaking hands and stop kissing

7. What to do in case of symptoms?

The disease is most often manifested by cough, fever or feeling feverish, loss of smell and taste, fatigue. If after a few days, you have trouble breathing or are out of breath, you should contact 15. The symptoms would be lighter with the Omicron variant, similar to those of a cold: sore throat, headache, runny nasal.

In case of signs of the disease, the most important thing is to get tested. The test, PCR or antigen, remains free for non-vaccinated people on medical prescription or after having been identified as a contact case by Health Insurance. In the event of a positive result on a self-test, a confirmation PCR test is recommended. While waiting for the result, you must isolate yourself and wear a mask. If the test is positive, isolation must last 7 days from the first symptoms for vaccinated persons, 10 days for unvaccinated people. It can be broken on D+5 or D+7 respectively, if you have a negative test and you have had no symptoms for 48 hours. Good to know, since March 21, 2022, contact cases no longer need to isolate themselves, vaccinated or not.

See you next week.

SEE ALSO – Covid-19: two new sub-variants of Omicron causing a new epidemic peak in South Africa


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