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Macron defends Covid strategy as calls mount for total lockdown

Hospitals warn they are overloaded but the President is not expected to introduce any new, more stringent, rules for at least 48 hours to allow latest figures to be reviewed

President Emmanuel Macron has said more Covid restrictions could be imposed in France in the coming days, but that “nothing is decided yet”, even as medical experts say new measures are needed urgently.

Over the weekend, Mr Macron said: “We will consider the efficiency of the measures and we will take more if necessary. Nothing has yet been decided.”

He promised to “safeguard healthcare workers and vulnerable people” while also remaining “pragmatic”.

A new Defence council meeting of senior ministers is scheduled for Wednesday and an update is expected following this.

The government is said to be waiting for figures to emerge on Tuesday night, as this will mark 10 days since the introduction of increased measures in the first 16 departments to be placed in “lockdown light” on March 20. The measures were described as “slowing the epidemic but not locking people in”.

Political journalist Anne Saurat-Dubois said that Mr Macron was very unlikely to change his strategy in the next 24 hours, and said that “everything will happen [if anything] between Tuesday and Wednesday”.

The President has defended his strategy to wait before imposing any more restrictions, saying that the science is never “unanimous” and that sometimes “the facts of today can contradict those of yesterday”. 

He also said that “we had no reason to lockdown France in January, because we didn’t see the explosion [in cases] that had been predicted”.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this morning said that now was not the time to relax the rules.

He told FranceInfo: “It would be incomprehensible that at the moment when the health situation is worsening - where it is difficult for carers and hospital workers - to send a message to open shops.”

He said that “all options”, including a more strict lockdown, were on the table.


Medical warnings

But now, 41 crisis directors at Paris hospital group AP-HP have said that the government’s decisions are too slow and not enough, and have called for more help to ease hospital pressures as soon as possible.

In an open letter in Le Journal du Dimanche, they wrote: “One year ago, Emmanuel Macron said: ‘We are at war’. Everyone knows that there is no clean war, and that collateral damage goes beyond healthcare, because its impact is also economic, social, psychological and philosophical.

“It is time that the executive clearly takes responsibility for the healthcare consequences of its political decisions.”

The letter continued: “In the next two weeks, we are almost certain of the number of critical care beds that will be needed, and we already know that our capacity will be exceeded at the end of this period.

“In this disastrous medicinal situation where there will be a glaring mismatch between needs and available resources, we will be forced to triage patients to save as many lives as possible. This will affect all patients, Covid or non-Covid, especially when it comes to adult access to critical care.

“We have never seen such a [critical] situation, even during the worst terrorist attacks we have suffered in the last few years.”

‘Light lockdown’ criticised

It comes after experts criticised the government’s decision to impose a so-called “light lockdown”. 

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

Read more: New partial lockdown in France not enough say senior doctors

And some medical predictions also appear to be at odds with President Macron’s approach.

A report by government advisory body le Conseil scientifique predicted that the epidemic would significantly increase in March, and said: “The quicker decisions are made, the more effective they are and allow us to avoid harsher restrictions at a later date.”

And at the end of January, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, president of le Conseil scientifique, said that the arrival of the UK variant “could lead, in mid-March to significant health consequences in terms of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions”.

But President Macron also defended his decision to not lock down the country in January, saying that “other tough confinements [in other countries] have not stopped the epidemic coming back”.  

He cited Germany and Italy as countries that have imposed lockdowns since the end of 2020, and yet have not managed to stop the virus from “restarting” in recent weeks.

Yet, Violette Bonnebas, a reporter for BFMTV in Germany, said: “The problem with that [assessment] is that Germany has not had a strict lockdown since December. Germans have always been allowed to leave their homes, without limits or forms.

“Berlin prefers to focus on limiting contacts and closing public spaces.”

And while Germany is still under lockdown conditions, the level of incidence (number of cases per 100,000 people) is three times lower than it is in France, according to data published on the Covid Tracker website.

Italy also has a lower level of virus spread than France.

Benjamin Morel, conference head at l’Université Paris II Panthéon Assas, said: “Emmanuel Macron’s long term strategy is to focus on good weather and vaccines, and it’s true that the epidemic can be helped by the vaccination campaign and increased temperatures.

“But in the short-term, it quickly causes a problem of hospital overloading.”

The latest figures (March 28) show that France has reported 12,572 new Covid hospital admissions in the past seven days, and 2,732 admissions to critical care, of which 1,890 were to intensive care units, in the same time period.

There were 131 Covid-related deaths in the past 24 hours, and 37,014 new Covid cases confirmed in the same time, with a test positivity rate of 8.2% over the past seven days. 
Read more about the daily situation in France.

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