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Covid France: Ending lockdown now risks fourth wave warn senior medics

The first step in the timetable to end lockdown restrictions in France begins today (May 3) but several high-profile medics say that it is ‘premature’ and risks a ‘fourth wave’ of the epidemic

3 May 2021
An intensive care unit at Bichat hospital. Covid France: Ending lockdown now risks fourth wave warn senior medicsAn intensive care unit at the Bichat hospital in Paris, where head of intensive care Professor Jean-Francois Timsit said 'deconfinement is going too quickly' in France
By Hannah Thompson

Leading doctors in France have said that the current health situation is not aligned with the planned lifting of restrictions and that reopening too fast risks a “fourth wave” of the virus.

The first step in the timetable to end lockdown restrictions in France begins today (May 3).

Read more: Lifting Covid lockdown in France Step 1: What changes from May 3

Professor Djillali Annane, president of Syndicat des médecins réanimateurs (SMR) and head of intensive care at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches, Hauts-de-Seine, told Le Monde: “This premature and speeded-up deconfinement will very clearly make the management of the health crisis more difficult, and run the risk of a fourth wave in autumn.

“Our health system will not be able to cope if the situation does not improve in the next few months...Allowing everyone to move around from May 3 will not slow contaminations, quite the opposite.”

The president of the French hospital federation (FHF), Frédéric Valletoux, said: “Deconfinement is something that everyone is urgently waiting for, but we must not forget the reality, which is very worrying in public hospitals, and only deconfine when the health situation really allows.”

Current health indicators show that the health situation is worse than it was before the first deconfinement, in May 2020.

There were 9,888 new cases confirmed in the past 24 hours, well above the once-suggested “safe” threshold of 5,000 per day.

The latest figures from Santé publique France show that there were 10,748 new hospitalisations over the past seven days, including 2,440 to critical care, of which 1,678 were to intensive care services.

Professor Jean-Francois Timsit, head of intensive care at the Bichat hospital in Paris, told BFMTV: “[Deconfinement] is going too quickly...by phase two [on May 19] we will still be generally overloaded in terms of intensive care beds.” 

Dr Jean-Francois Corty, GP and manager of a vaccination centre in Paris, said: “We still have very high mortality numbers, with very strong pressure on hospital services, especially intensive care, numbers that before led the president to re-confine the country, so it’s a bit of a paradox.”

Professor Karine Lacombe, infectologist and head of infectious diseases at the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris, said: “We must take into account many measures, especially the intensity of the virus spread, but also the dynamic of the vaccination. We need to monitor certain indicators very closely.

“That will be, I think, the major challenge for the future.”

Professor Annane added: “It is very risky to deconfine a region such as Ile-de-France now. As long as we have not gone below 8,000 – even 5,000 – cases per day, the tension in intensive care will stay very high.

“In my service, we have only Covid patients, and we are refusing other patients every day. We want to do as the UK and Israel have done, but they lifted lockdown much more slowly and with far lower levels [of cases].”

 

Vaccination our ‘best weapon’ against virus

The UK and Israel are also ahead of France in terms of Covid vaccination numbers.

Mr Valletoux said: “It is urgent that we strengthen and consolidate the vaccination strategy [to decrease hospital pressure] before lifting restrictions gradually.”

Dr Christophe Prudhomme, spokesperson of emergency doctors group l’Association des médecins urgentistes de France (AMUF) and emergency doctor at the Avicenne hospital in Bobigny, said: “The question is not confinement, the effects of which are fairly limited.

“[The question] is how can we catch up our delay in terms of vaccination, our best weapon – along with effective barrier measures – to fight against the epidemic. As long as we stay at this current [vaccination] speed, we will have extra people in intensive care, and extra deaths.”

Dr Prudhomme said that the government’s vaccination strategy had been “completely incoherent”, using the reopening of schools as an example.

He said: “Before reopening, we should have vaccinated teachers and staff. European leaders carry a big responsibility in their inability to coordinate, in enabling pharmaceutical companies to produce en masse and at the best price.”

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Covid France: What are the key May-June dates for easing of lockdown?

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