COVID-19: Staff shortages stoke fears at hospital near Paris

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At a hospital near Paris, where 90% of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, doctors and staff worry about their “capacity to receive patients” as France reported 208,000 new cases on Wednesday, the country’s highest daily figure since the pandemic began.

“There are currently 20% of intensive care beds in the Ile-de-France region that are closed due to lack of personnel,” said the hospital’s deputy director, Yohann Mourier.

Despite a vaccination mandate for healthcare workers, a significant number have been put on leave because they were affected by the Omicron variant, he explained, adding to the exhausted caregivers who have quit or been put on unpaid leave for refusing vaccination.

Daily hospital admissions for the coronavirus in France are averaging above 1,000 a day, still well below the peak of 3,500 during the first wave in April 2020 or nearly 3,000 in the second wave in November last year.

But the exponential growth in case numbers is causing alarm.

The French Federation of Hospitals said Tuesday that “additional measures in order to protect public hospitals are necessary in order to avoid saturating health services and emergency wards which will inevitably lead to more cancelled operations”.

Many hospitals, particularly those in France’s hotspots and the southern Mediterranean coast, are already cancelling non-essential operations due to the surge in COVID admissions, most of which are unvaccinated people.

Despite France having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with 90% of the eligible population having had at last one dose, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said that there were still five million unvaccinated people who are old enough to get the jab.

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The government is staking its strategy on a new law that will be debated in Parliament from Wednesday, which will require citizens to show proof of vaccination in order to enter restaurants, cinemas, museums, and other public venues.

The new “vaccine pass” system will replace the previous “health pass”, which could be obtained by providing a recent negative test in the absence of vaccination.

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to crank up restrictions on the unvaccinated but has stopped short of making jabs mandatory.

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