Covid-19: France, a bad student of Europe, on the way to deconfinement

It had to happen eventually. This Tuesday, April 27, Iceland announced that travelers from France were no longer welcome on the Nordic island. For Icelanders, France is now considered “an area at high risk of contamination by Covid”. Already, Germany had blocked the Moselle, and the United Kingdom imposed on the French a strict quarantine on their arrival. But Iceland has decided to completely deny us access to its territory. A treatment that only two other countries are inflicted: Poland and Sweden, known for its rather lax strategy and its poor performance in the face of the epidemic …

Despite the optimism displayed by the government, and the downward trend in the incidence rate of Covid, the facts are there: France is now among the European countries where the virus circulates the most strongly. On April 26, the incidence was still 44.3 cases per 100,000 inhabitants (sliding value over 7 days) against 26.9 cases on average in the countries of the European Union. Only Sweden, the Netherlands and Croatia had a higher number of infections, relative to their population. In terms of cumulative deaths since the onset of the Covid, France has now caught up with the average for European Union countries. And we continue to record some 300 deaths per day today – that is, again as a proportion of the population, double that of Spain or Germany today.

“At European level, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, a few countries stand out clearly from the others: the United Kingdom, Portugal, Finland, Norway, and to a lesser extent Denmark and Switzerland, which are experiencing a real epidemic decline, with very low mortality, “notes Professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute for Global Health in Geneva. France and Germany, they have an “R”, this famous indicator which shows the dynamics of the epidemic, of 0.9. This is the sign of a slowdown in contamination, but which promises to be very slow. “Germany is in a better position than France, because it starts from a much lower number of cases. In France, at this rate, it would take a month to return to 12,000 cases per day, two months to be at 6000, and three months for a real decline, which would therefore not be reached until the end of July, “calculates this expert. Provided however that the “R” does not rise under the effect of a relaxation of the measurements …

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“400 people still go into intensive care every day”

However, like everywhere in Europe, the time is indeed for the lifting of health restrictions in France, even if Emmanuel Macron claims to want to be cautious, and “to go slowly to prevent the epidemic from starting again” . After the schools this week, it will be the turn of the colleges and high schools to start welcoming some of their students in “face-to-face” again next week. The end of the ban on travel between regions or the limits of 10 and 30 kilometers is also announced in the same calendar. The reopening of the terraces, certain cultural places and part of the shops remains promised from mid-May. The idea of ​​pushing back the curfew a bit was also put forward. A more precise schedule is expected in the coming days. But the prospect of seeing the restrictions lighten worries many experts: “This deconfinement project is madness, while 400 people still arrive every day in intensive care”, loses epidemiologist Catherine Hill. An analysis shared by infectious disease specialist Eric Caumes, head of department at Pitié-Salpétrière: “Put the children back to school, talk about reopening restaurants … All of this has a somewhat surreal side. Slackening will inevitably lead to a restart of the epidemic “, he laments.

“This deconfinement project is madness”

In view of our epidemic situation, the choices of the French executive are also surprising abroad, especially among our German neighbors. The weekly Die Zeit echoed this last week in a vitriolic article, titled “The corona in France: loosen to 340”, in reference to the incidence of the disease in France. The gulf between the policies pursued on both sides of the Rhine is extensively commented on. In particular the fact that the French government no longer refers, or almost no longer, to quantified indicators to justify its decisions, when the German executive has its eyes riveted on the data. So, while the incidence is half lower than with us, emergency braking measures have just been requested by Chancellor Angela Merkel …

“During the second confinement, clear health objectives had been set, even if they were not reached. There, there is none. It is really a French particularity. We are just talking about reopening, then that there is no reason for the situation to end up improving spontaneously, “deplores Gilles Pialoux, head of the infectious disease department at Tenon hospital (and columnist for L’Express). Vaccination will inevitably slow down the epidemic a little, “but we have no figures to say what the impact could be with the current coverage rate”, specifies this doctor, who especially fears the occurrence of a “bottleneck” in the timing of dosing. “The number of eligible people is steadily increasing, which is positive, but an increasing part of the demand is transferred to the pfizer vaccine, the quantities of which do not meet all the needs on its own,” he explains. . French mistrust vis-à-vis the Astrazeneca vaccine is indeed at its worst, even if, with a little more than 8% of the population fully vaccinated (two doses), France is for the moment in the average of its European neighbors.

As the role of the weather on the virus remains highly debated (the epidemic is soaring in India when it is very hot there), the evolution of the next few weeks therefore remains very uncertain. “The problem today in France is that the strategy adopted by the government is not explicit. We are neither in an objective of suppressing the virus, nor in living with it, since strong containment measures such as the curfew is maintained. We remain in a middle ground, and if we gradually lift the brakes by focusing only on vaccination and the weather to contain the virus, will that really be enough? “, s’ worries Professor Flahault. The latest models published by Simon Cauchemez’s team at the Institut Pasteur confirm these doubts. Their reference scenario indeed shows that a “significant increase in hospitalizations could be observed in the event of too rapid relaxation of the braking measures on May 15, even with optimistic assumptions concerning the rate of vaccination”. If these gloomy predictions are confirmed, Iceland may not remain the only country to put France on the blacklist …


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