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

Members of the scientific government advisory council have called on the government 'to require elderly and fragile people to self-isolate instead'

19 February 2021
By Hannah Thompson

Scientific experts in France have called on the government to change its approach to the Covid health crisis, suggesting a new “social contract” between generations, and an end to “stop-start confinement”.

In a report in medical journal The Lancet, five members of the government advisory body le Conseil Scientifique suggested that the government should stop the current curfew measures, and the risk of continued lockdowns, and instead require elderly and fragile people to self-isolate instead.

The five - which included council president Professor Jean-François Delfraissy - called for a new approach, based on “a new, evidence-based social contract” between generations, as Covid-19 is here to stay.

The group also included Professor Franck Chauvin, president of public health council le Haut conseil pour la santé publique; the anthropologist Professor Laëtitia Atlani-Duault, virologist Professor Bruno Lina, and infectiologist Professor Denis Malvy.

They write: “The fervently awaited end of this global health crisis might be continually postponed, as new variants emerge and immune evasion reduces vaccination effectiveness in the short and medium-term.

“Under this social contract, younger generations could accept the constraint of prevention measures (eg, masks, physical distancing) on the condition that the older and more vulnerable groups adopt not only these measures, but also more specific steps (eg, voluntary self-isolation according to vulnerability criteria) to reduce their risk of infection.”

They continue: “Using stop-start general confinement as the main response to the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer feasible.

“Though attractive to many scientists, and a default measure for political leaders fearing legal liability for slow or indecisive national responses, its use must be revisited, only to be used as a last resort.”

The advisors said ”it is time to abandon fear-based approaches based on seemingly haphazard stop-start generalised confinement as the main response to the pandemic.

They added: “Populations have so far been relatively complacent, but their doubts and distrust are visible in protest movements in several countries.”

The group also warned of the “devastating” consequences of lockdown, especially on the economy, and mental health.

It comes after Health Minister Olivier Véran spoke at an update last night, outlining changes to self-isolation rules, and explaining the government’s continued enforcement of curfew rules and closures.

Read more: Covid France: Self-isolation time extended due to variants

In response to the report, Mr Véran said that it had only been signed by “a few members” of the council, and not everyone.

He also said: “The feasibility of such a measure - and we have already discussed it several times in the year - is very, very debatable. It hinges everything on solidarity between generations, and the epidemic impact is not clear.”

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