French insurance giant Axa posted Monday a surge in profits above pre-pandemic levels in the first half of 2021 and urged clients to settle Covid-related claims.

The company posted four billion euros ($4.75 billion) in net profit in the first six months of the year, up 71 percent from the same period in 2019 and nearly triple from last year.

Axa's earnings for 2020 took a 1.5-billion-euro hit from claims related to the pandemic and higher payouts for natural catastrophes.

Axa has faced hundreds of lawsuits from restaurant owners accusing the insurer of trying to back out of its contractual obligations.

Most lawsuits so far have been successful.

In June, it offered 300 million euros ($370 million) to some 15,000 restaurants that are fighting to have at least part of their losses due to Covid lockdowns covered by their policies.

Axa chief executive Thomas Buberl said the offer aims "to put this issue behind us", adding that the amount was "very high".

Axa has offered 300 million euros ($370 million) to 15,000 restaurants that are fighting to have Covid-linked losses covered by their policies. Axa has offered 300 million euros ($370 million) to 15,000 restaurants that are fighting to have Covid-linked losses covered by their policies. Photo: AFP / BERTRAND GUAY

Industry officials have said the offer was not nearly enough, amounting to on average just 20,000 euros each, far below the losses reported by many owners.

"We invite our restaurant friends and clients to participate in this transaction because we are experiencing a recovery and it is important to turn the page," Axa France head Patrick Cohen said.

Alban de Mailly Nesle, the group's financial director, said that half of restaurants concerned have approached the group about a settlement.

Axa's clients sought relief via their policies that covered "administrative closures" for a variety of reasons, including health shutdowns.

Axa has denied the claims, citing a clause specifying that any order had to apply only to the individual restaurant covered, which excluded closures due to a generalised health emergency.

The company says some 1,500 suits have been filed so far.

The floods that hit Europe in July will also cost Axa an estimated 400 million euros, the company said.