The number of new infections across France broke a new record with more than 200,000 cases reported over the previous 24 hours, the Health Minister announced on Wednesday.
Olivier Véran told a parliamentary hearing that 208,000 new cases had been recorded.
“I wouldn’t describe it as a wave anymore when it comes to Omicron,” Véran said, describing “two enemies” the country was facing along with the Delta variant. “Given the figures we have been recording over the last few days in our country, I would tend to speak of a tidal wave,” he added.
The minister said 10% of the population were “contact cases”, and the unvaccinated had “little chance of escaping the worst”.
There have been warnings that the daily figures may vary due to the holiday period, but the past week has seen a stark rise in cases.
On Tuesday, 179,807 new daily infections were reported. France crossed the 100,000 daily case threshold on 25 December.
Earlier on Wednesday the government announced that nightclubs, closed recently to curb the spread of the virus, will remain shut for a further three weeks in January.
The latest developments come two days after the French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a a raft of new measures to curb the impact of the Omicron variant. They stopped short of introducing a curfew on New Year’s Eve, and do not go as far as the restrictions seen in some other European countries.
Among them, the period between second and third vaccine doses is to be reduced from four to three months. A new bill to turn the “health pass” into a “vaccine pass” is to be put before parliament, with the aim of bringing it into force by mid-January.
If passed, it means that a negative COVID test will no longer be sufficient to gain entry to restaurants, bars, and many other public spaces — instead proof of vaccination will be required.
The vaccine pass is designed to urge the “indifferent” among the unvaccinated to get the jab, rather than to convince the sceptics, Véran said on Wednesday.
Although the number of positive cases in France is expected to rise still further with the spread of Omicron, much remains uncertain about the severity of infections, particularly among older people.
In its latest assessment of the variant’s impact (in French), the Institut Pasteur notes the “absence of a significant increase in hospitalisations in London” — where COVID-19 cases have been soaring — as an “encouraging sign”.
French health service figures put the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 at 17,405 on Tuesday, of whom 3,416 were in intensive care. Such numbers have not been seen since last spring.
Each day, hundreds of thousands of people have been receiving third doses of the vaccine as the booster campaign is stepped up in France.
But although nearly 90% of people over 12 have had two doses, the number of people who have had no jabs at all is over five million.
Official figures from December 12 showed the proportion of unvaccinated patients in intensive care was many times higher than those who had been inoculated.
The number of people in intensive care, among those aged 20 and above who had received a third vaccination dose, was just under 10 per million. Among the unvaccinated the figure was 176 per million.