Covid France: Doctors oppose targeted lockdown for elderly

Leading medical experts have suggested older people be required to self-isolate instead of imposing a national lockdown on the young, but doctors say this is cruel 

24 February 2021
By Joanna York

Doctors for the elderly have rejected the idea that they should take responsibility for self-isolating to avoid the country being subject to future lockdowns as the Covid health crisis continues. 

In a letter, the national body for elderly care doctors, CNP de gériatrie, wrote: “If widespread confinements are still a possibility, it is because of a lack of protective measures being applied.” 

“Why should the elderly [be impacted] more than anyone else?”

Professor Claude Jeandel, president of the group, said to news source Le Monde: “Self-protection measures should apply to everyone. A selective confinement… would not be socially tenable or scientifically relevant.”

Leading scientists propose elderly lockdown 

The opposition has come as President Emmanuel Macron has said he would be open to the idea of targeted confinement and Health Minister Olivier Véran has called the idea “debatable”.

Most recently debate around the idea was reignited by five members of national health advisory board le Conseil Scientifique, including its president, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy. 

In a letter published in The Lancet Public Health on February 18, they wrote that Covid vaccines may not remove the need for future confinements to contain the virus. 

But they said if confinements were necessary in the future, they should be based on a “social contract between the generations” that would lessen the economic and social impact of the drastic health measure.

This would see younger generations taking precautions such as wearing masks and physical distancing, “on the condition that the older and more vulnerable groups adopt not only these measures, but also more specific steps [such as] voluntary self-isolation.”

Read more: Covid experts say France should end ‘stop-start lockdowns’

Experts question need for new measure

This is not the first time members of the Conseil Scientifique have put forward the idea of targeted isolation for the elderly, which has so far always been rebuffed by the government.

But other experts have questioned whether the measure would work in practice.

If a formal rule for the elderly or vulnerable to stay at home were introduced, Dr Olivier Henry, president of the la Société de gériatrie et de gérontologie in Ile-de-France questioned how the parameters would be defined

He said: “We do not all age equally. All people aged 75 do not necessarily seem geriatric. It depends on related illnesses.”

And Professor Pierre-Louis Druais, also a member of the Conseil Scientifique, told Le Monde such a rule was not necessary. 

He said: “Most highly vulnerable people are already protecting themselves and staying at home. The most important thing is to isolate people infected with the virus.”

Professor Christian Gollier, director of the Toulouse School of Economics agreed. 

He said, of France’s second confinement: “Allowing schools and businesses to open, while imposing specific rules on elderly care homes – isn’t this already putting the policy in practice?”

Elderly have ‘already made sacrifices’

But, Professor Gollier added he was not against the idea of asking the elderly to make sacrifices – as younger generations already have. 

“We have vaccinated elderly people first due to their vulnerability, so why not ask them to make an extra effort by asking them to confine themselves if necessary, rather than sacrificing young people and spending power?” he said.

However, Dr Aline Corvol, elderly care doctor in Rennes hospital refuted this.  

She said: “The eldest people in care homes have already made sacrifices for the young: we gave them no choice, even those who were ready to take the risk of catching Covid to see their children.” 

Recent figures also indicate that elderly patients are not the sole cause of high occupation in hospitals. While people aged 75 and over are occupying 60% of hospital beds, they are only using 25% of beds in intensive care.

Hopes lie in vaccination

For Professor Jeandel, the best solution remains vaccination. He said: “We need to increase the speed, and target the eldest but also the most vulnerable.”

Michèle Delaunay, former minister for the elderly added: “For now, no one is saying the vaccines do not work against the variants [as was suggested in the letter published in The Lancet]”

She added: “There is a certain cruelty in envisaging that elderly people must go into confinement again, right at the moment when they see the vaccine as a passport to freedom.”

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