Covid France: Macron warns of new measures; medics say lockdown needed

The President said new measures will, without doubt, have be taken within weeks but defended the strategy to not lockdown completely in January

26 March 2021
By Hannah Thompson

President Emmanuel Macron has said that new measures against Covid will be taken in France in the next few days and weeks - and that the country will face them together. 

It comes as medical experts, including the director of national medical research centre Inserm, say a total lockdown is now unavoidable.

The President said: "Doubtless in the next days, the next weeks, new measures will have to be taken; we will take them together, in the light of the facts, and with transparency...

"The next few weeks will be difficult.”

Mr Macron was speaking at a press conference during the first day of the European Council meeting.

Health expert: ‘I can’t see how we can avoid total lockdown’

It comes as some medical experts say the health situation in France is rapidly worsening. 

The latest figures from health body Santé publique France show that there were 45,641 new cases in the past 24 hours, an 8% rate of test positivity, and 11,948 new hospitalisations in the past seven days, and 1,772 patients admitted to intensive care in the same time.

Read more: Explained: Why France reported 65,000 Covid-19 cases

The director of national medical research centre l’Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (Inserm), epidemiologist Professor Dominique Costagliola told FranceInfo: “Given where we are, I cannot see how we cannot impose a total lockdown.” 

She said: “The role of early lockdown would have been to slow the spread of the UK variant, because it’s not possible to stop it completely. We can see from the [epidemic] curves that the UK variant has been on the rise in most regions since the beginning of March.

“The aim would have been to limit the spread so an ‘explosion’ of cases would come one month later, when we would have more doses [of vaccines]. That would have allowed us to avoid the situation that we are seeing now in hospitals.

“The rise in hospital cases has also been delayed due to [the policy of] vaccinating the most vulnerable people. With the UK variant, there has been a change in the proportion of people in hospital and in intensive care. We have more young people [in hospital now]. That made the data more complicated.”

Read more: Covid: Patients in intensive care in France are younger

New measures ‘not so strict’

Health Minister Olivier Véran has already announced an extension to the restrictions in three new departments, in addition to the 16 already under the measures, and said that 24 further departments are on heightened alert too.

Mr Véran also said that it was, so far, too early to see whether the added restrictions imposed last week - which were criticised for not going far enough at the time - are working well enough. 

And Professor Costagliola said: “When you see the situation in hospitals in some regions, especially in Ile-de-France, we know that they cannot wait [and see what happens]. If it doesn’t work, it will be terrible.

“The difference between now and what happened in October is that in October, it was the original strain of the virus. Now we have a variant that is both more contagious and severe. So we need more severe measures.

“Everyone agrees that the measures that have been taken are not so strict. So the probability that it will work after 10 days seems quite unlikely to me.”

The health minister has justified the government decision to impose stricter rules rather than a full lockdown, saying that any measures had to be “acceptable” to people in France who are “worn out from fighting with no relief for the past year”.

But on that point, Professor Costagliola said: “I think the situation will make itself known anyway. If you look at the incidence in France [the number of cases per 100,000 people], there are two regions that are apart from the rest: PACA, which is high but stable; and Corsica, where it is low and dropping.

“In all the other regions, [cases] have risen incredibly quickly since the beginning of March.”


Early strategy defended

Yet, President Macron defended the government’s decision not to impose a total lockdown in January or this year, and to instead choose a “hybrid” confinement that is in place in the country currently.

He said: “We were right not to lock down France at the end of January, because there was not the explosion [in cases] that all the models had predicted.

“I confirm that I have no ‘mea culpa’, no regret, no feeling of failure [about the measures we took].”

‘An Airbus A320 crash every day’

In response, Dr François Salachas, a neurologist at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, and member of the health collective Inter-Hôpitaux, told BFMTV that the “obstinate cold-bloodedness” from the government had made him feel “hopeless”. 

He said: “We feel as though we have not been heard in time. We do not have enough hands to take care of [all of] these patients.”

He added: “[Deaths from Covid are still the equivalent] of one Airbus A320 crashing every day in France. We tend to forget that, but it’s continuing, and it’s unacceptable.”

Dr Salachas said that even though President Macron said he wanted to “protect healthcare workers” and “never force them to make ethical choices that they shouldn’t have to make”, he believes that “the damage has already been done”.

The neurologist said: “We are not protected well-enough and we have the impression of being in a high-speed train [heading for a crash].”

He said that healthcare workers “don’t need empathy, but resources, and they’re not there”.

‘We must lockdown and close schools’

Epidemiologist Professor Catherine Hill, told FranceInfo today that hospitals are “going to the wall”.

She said: “We are already completely saturated, so it is going to become completely untenable. We will no longer be able to take care of patients that have something other than Covid. It’s completely mad.”

She called the government’s strategy “deadly”, and condemned Mr Véran’s words that “time is on our side”. She said: “Time is causing more deaths every day.”

She also said that the government’s choice to focus on vaccination as a way out of the crisis was a “deadly” choice, as “vaccination can only go as fast as vaccine dose deliveries”.

Read more: Covid: Will France have enough vaccines to meet its new targets?

She said: “[France is] trying to double down on this position of not locking down and not closing schools, even though the situation is absolutely dire. To control this epidemic, we must lockdown strongly, including closing the schools, and finally systematically test the population.”

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