Health minister Olivier Véran says that tougher measures cannot be excluded. Photo: AFP
Until the last few days Emmanuel Macron, Jean Castex and members of their government insisted that a second nationwide “confinement” would be economically and socially and educationally catastrophic. It must be avoided at all costs.The government’s tone has changed somewhat, despite the tough, regionally-varied restrictions imposed last week. The Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said on France 2 TV on Thursday that the country could face the same kind of crisis which forced the first Covid-19 lockdown in March if people did not start to behave more responsibly.The health minister, Olivier Véran, said on Sunday that the government “does not want to close down the country” but tougher, nationwide restrictions for the late October school holidays or Christmas “could not be excluded”.
A group of seven senior doctors wrote in the Journal du Dimanche that harsh measures were needed immediately if France was to avoid a second wave of the virus which would be worse than the first. On present trends, they claimed, the number of Covid patients entering intensive care would match the late March-early April peak – about 650 a day – by the end of October and “could reach 1,200 a day by mid-November”.
These figures are rather odd. I will come back to them later.
In any case, many other senior doctors and epidemiologists have a contrary opinion.
The virologist Vincent Enouf, deputy head of respiratory viruses at the Institut Pasteur, says that “numerous” medical experts believe it would be wrong to shut down France again. He urges the government to remain “hyper-flexible” and wait to see if the new regional restrictions have their effect before doing anything drastic.
In other words, the Government should wait and see – which is exactly what it has been doing since the virus revived in August. After last week’s announcement of grey, pink, red and crimson zones – no-alert, alert, heightened alert, maximum alert – there is at least some kind of nationwide strategy.
From early August until last week, the government had drifted. It largely ignored the signs of a resurgent epidemic and concentrated instead on its €100bn recovery programme and the need to avoid an economically – and politically – disastrous depression this winter.
The French testing system, although now dealing in theory with 1,000,000 cases a week, proved slow and cumbersome.
Much of the French population also switched off. We took a holiday from the virus.
Social distancing measures were flouted, not by everyone but by many people and not just the young. The 14-day quarantine rules for those in contact with the disease were widely ignored.
This was partly a failure by the government but it was also partly the fault of those who ignored the advice. Other countries appear not to have this problem. No, it wasn’t just the Germans who were more disciplined; also the Italians.
All of that being said, I believe that the virologist Vincent Enouf is right and the “seven senior doctors” may be wrong – unless they know something they are not telling us.
If you crunch the Covid-19 figures, there is nothing (yet) which resembles the precipitous rise in acute cases seen in March.