MAINTENANCE. Covid-19: is the epidemic behind us?

As the number of cases drops and the government lifts the obligation to wear a mask in transport, Mahmoud Zureik, professor of epidemiology and public health, provides an update on the Covid-19 epidemic.

Decline in cases and hospitalizations, lifting of the obligation to wear a mask in transport… Is the Covid-19 epidemic definitely behind us? Mahmoud Zureik, professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, takes stock of the health situation in France.

The government has announced the lifting of the obligation to wear a mask in transport. Is this decision justified, in your opinion?

In any case, it does not shock me in view of the improvement in the health situation. However, several studies had shown that there is a risk of transmission in transport. This risk still exists since there are still 36,000 contaminations per day.

So you recommend continuing to wear the mask?

Yes, I invite everyone to do so to protect themselves and others. Lifting the mask exposes people at risk and immunocompromised to contamination and the development of serious forms. In the same way, if you have symptoms or are in contact or know that you are fragile, you must continue to wear the mask. The same for long journeys.

The number of cases has been falling for several weeks. What can you say about the dynamics of the epidemic?

The downward trend is clear, but it has stalled for a week. We have gone from a drop of 25-35% every day to a drop of 15-20% and the number of contaminations is probably underestimated. However, there is also a decline in all hospital indicators. This positive momentum should be maintained in the coming days thanks to the good weather.

The president of the Scientific Council, Jean-François Delfraissy spoke of a possible new wave next fall. What do you think ?

It is always very difficult to predict the future for a virus which still remains mysterious. I think the summer should go well, but we are not immune to the arrival of a new variant. It can go very quickly. As a reminder on November 20, 2021, no one was talking about Omicron. In mid-December, he was in the majority in France. It should also be remembered that the fourth wave also took place in July-August 2021, in the heart of summer.

South Africa is currently experiencing a fifth wave due to BA.4 and BA.5. What can you say about these Omicron sub-variants?

Admittedly, there has been a very significant increase in contaminations for some time, but in a lesser way than with Omicron in November. The number of hospitalizations is also increasing, but also more slowly than in November. We can expect the morbidity to be lower than other Omicron variants. Moreover, it is not yet known whether these variants will arrive in Europe. Active surveillance by sequencing is necessary.

Can we imagine Sars-Cov-2 becoming a seasonal virus?

At this point, I wouldn’t venture there. It’s still too early, we have to see what will happen during the summer and then during the next winter.

Less than 10,000 doses of vaccine are injected every day in France. Is vaccination still useful?

Vaccination remains a major tool for managing the epidemic, vaccines are still very effective against serious forms and modestly effective against contamination. But we are in a relatively calm period at the epidemic level and we must take advantage of this to develop a vaccine strategy. We need to ask ourselves when to give booster doses and to whom. Should we still vaccinate everyone or only vulnerable people? We need studies on the subject and to analyze the existing data.

Can we say that we have entered a new phase of the epidemic and that we will no longer experience situations similar to the first waves?

We are no longer in the situation of 2020 or 2021. Thanks to vaccines and contamination, we have acquired significant immunity. It is very unlikely that we will return to confinement, but the question of the return of the mask for example or the booster dose cannot be ruled out. It is the duration and nature of the immunity as well as the performance of the new variants that will decide this.