Will France follow Italy into Covid-19 lockdown?

Key differences between the two countries indicate that France is better equipped to deal with the outbreak than Italy

10 March 2020

Italy is in nationwide lockdown in a bid to control the spread of Covid-19 after 97 people died from the illness in 24 hours, prompting concerns that France would be forced to follow suit.

But comparisons between the neighbouring countries indicate France's experience of the outbreak will be different. While further restrictions on daily life in France are expected as the disease spreads and a national lockdown remains a possibility, key differences indicate that France is less likely to suffer as seriously from the disease.

Read more: Covid-19: France bans groups of more than 1,000 people

As of Tuesday, March 10, until April 3, travel in Italy will only be allowed for "urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies or health reasons". Businesses have been urged to put their staff on leave or let them work from home. Schools are closed and sporting events cancelled or postponed.

Italy has the highest number of cases of coronavirus in Europe. On Monday evening officials announced the death toll there had risen by 97 in 24 hours, to 463, while the number of cases confirmed jumped 1,897. Since the outbreak began, a total 9,172 people have been infected, according to official figures.

In comparison, France - the European country with the second-highest number of confirmed cases - has reported 1,412 instances of the illness, and 30 deaths. Certain restrictions are currently in place in virus cluster zones, with more than 300,000 students at home in the Oise and Haut-Rhin departments, while sporting events have been called off or will take place behind closed doors.

Read more: Stage 3 Covid-19 epidemic ‘inevitable’ in France

There are, however, key differences between Italy and France. Coronavirus spread rapidly in Italy because 'patient zero', the first person to have the illness in the country, arrived when they were contagious but asymptomatic - meaning they showed no symptoms and inadvertently spread the virus undetected.

As a result, once the first cases were noticed, many more had already been infected. France has been monitoring the spread of Covid-19 since before the first domestic cases were diagnosed.

Another concern over the spread of the disease in Italy is the age of the population. Life expectancy is among the highest in the world, but when an illness particularly affects the elderly and infirm, the risks are greater.

Last year, over-65s made up 22.3% of the Italian population, according to Eurostat, the highest in the EU. An astonishing statistic from the country's national statistics agency Istat, reported by Le Monde, revealed that more of the country's population was born in 1938 than in 2018.

The average age of people in Italy who have died of Covid-19 is 83.

In comparison, 18.8% of the French population is in the vulnerable 65-plus age bracket.

The two healthcare systems are also very different. Italy is more vulnerable to fast-moving outbreaks. Under normal circumstances, there are about 5,000 intensive care and resuscitation beds in Italy, RTL reported. As a result of the coronavirus crisis, that capacity will rise to 7,500, as 20,000 medical staff are brought in to deal with the healthcare situation.

Read more: Covid-19 sparks rise in online GP services in France

France has about 13,000 intensive care and / or resuscitation beds as standard in public and private hospitals.

Meanwhile, Italy's general medical care system is less centralised and more hospital-based than in France.

Around 80% of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment, while 3.4% of cases are fatal, according to the latest WHO figures. The 3.4% figure does not take account of those who are affected but show no symptoms as there is no widespread mandatory testing.

Read more: Covid-19: France lets pharmacies make own sanitiser

Stay informed:
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France

Get news, views and information from France