How we end lockdown in France more critical than when - senior medic

Getting the public to agree to regular testing is key, says a senior epidemiologist as President Macron prepares to hold a meeting to discuss a roadmap out of lockdown today

15 April 2021
A self-testing Covid kit. How we end lockdown in France more critical than when - senior medic

Mass, regular use of Covid self-testing kits is the way out of lockdown, Dr Martin Blachier said Pic: Naiz: / @naiz_info / Twitter

By Hannah Thompson

The successful reopening of public spaces in France is not a question of date but of method, a leading doctor has said as President Macron prepares to hold a meeting on the issue today.

Mr Macron will host senior ministers at the Elysee today, Thursday April 15, to discuss a possible roadmap out of lockdown. So far, May 15 has been suggested as a potential date for to start reopening restaurant terraces and cultural centres. 

Read more: Roadmap out of lockdown in France: President Macron to hold meeting

But Dr Martin Blachier, epidemiologist and public health expert, told newspaper La Dépêche: “It is not a question of date, it is a question of the method to apply. 

“By mid-May, the health situation will not be drastically different, but we will have had time to put protocols in places. The problem is how to reopen, without causing an epidemic rebound. The summer season effect may have a positive impact, but there is uncertainty about that.

“The problem is how to reopen correctly, not when to do it.”

How can France reopen without causing an epidemic rebound?

Dr Blachier said that this was “very clear”: by testing.

He said: “We must test people. This is a contract to sign with society - the trade-off for reopening is that we accept testing, and that we self-isolate when we have Covid-19. We must find a French method, that is coherent with our culture and the way our country is organised so that people can be tested regularly.

“This mass testing should be organised by sector, with a tailored method in lycées and collèges, businesses, and the cultural and events sector.”

Should testing be mandatory to access these reopened public spaces?

Dr Blachier said: “From my point of view, that would be a good idea. It would be a sort of ‘health pass’, which says: ‘You have played the game, you are getting tested regularly, so you can live almost normally through proof of a negative test’.

The doctor explained that consistent testing would not only allow people access to public spaces but would also likely curb the epidemic too.

He said: “That would be a doubly beneficial strategy; making the most of reopening by [actually] decreasing the epidemic. It’s win-win. Life would restart, and the epidemic would slow.”

 

Which spaces should reopen first and which should stay closed?

Dr Blachier said: “We must respond to this question according to the level of risk in each place, and stay rational.”

He recommended that places with good ventilation, where people do not stay for very long, and where people can wear masks and stay sitting down, might open first.

He said that workplaces and offices should stay closed, as office spaces that have remained open in recent weeks are “where there are contaminations at the moment”.

He said: “As for weddings and family events, that is more complicated, as these are uncontrolled events. But again, if people accept to self-isolate for 3-4 days before, and to be tested, we could do it. 

“We are in an era where there is a solution. We have protocols. We could reopen right now if everyone accepted them.”

Dr Blachier said that “total reopening of public spaces” could be “possible by summer, if vaccination protection against [virus] variants is effective”.

He said: “We cannot reopen without being alert, and we cannot not reopen at all. That would cause the population to crack. However, it’s obvious that reopening will lead to a reduction in barrier methods, and we will need a collective discipline.

“Everything is in our hands. This is no longer a scientific question. It’s a question of civic responsibility. Getting tested will become a way of life.”

Read more: Self-testing Covid kits on sale in France: What you need to know

Presidential meeting

Dr Blachier’s recommendations come two weeks after Mr Macron announced new lockdown measures for France.

Today’s meeting at the Élysée is expected to include discussions on:

  • A possible date for the opening of restaurant terraces and cultural centres
  • An updated vaccination campaign calendar
  • A road map out of lockdown and the crisis, from May and beyond

President Macron is expected to reveal updates and plans agreed at today’s meeting in a TV address “before the end of April”, a source close to the Élysée said. 

May 15 has been suggested as an initial date for “unlocking”.

Yet, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire yesterday told BFMTV that May 15 was just “one of our hypotheses” and that there had been no date confirmed yet. 

He said: “I want our reopening to be based on a solid health basis, which will ensure safety for the public and guarantees that we will not be forced to close everything down again.

“We make our decisions based on the way the virus is spreading,” he said.

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