Chief adviser: 18 million in France must stay confined

Eighteen million at-risk and vulnerable people in France will still need to stay in confinement even after deconfinement measures begin on May 11, the French chief government scientific advisor has warned.

16 April 2020
Professor Delfraissy is a senior immunologist and president of national scientific advisory council Le Conseil Scientifique
By Connexion journalist

Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, senior immunologist and president of national scientific advisory council Le Conseil Scientifique, told the French Senate yesterday (Wednesday April 15): “[18 million people risk] developing a serious form [of Covid-19]. For these 18 million people, we will continue confinement.

“For how long, I do not know. Perhaps until a preventative drug [or vaccine] is found.”

Professor Delfraissy specified that these would be people “of a certain age, as I am, above the age of 65 or 70”, as well as “young people would underlying conditions, and also the obese”.

Deconfinement conditions

He said that he would only recommend that deconfinement measures go ahead at all - for anyone - if certain scientific conditions had been met.

He said: “I am extremely clear: If we have not met the prerequisites, we must stay under confinement. If we have to delay it by several days because we are not ready, then we will have to delay it by several days.”

He said that these “operational and technical prerequisites” would include having enough Covid-19 tests to introduce systematic tracing of contacts of newly-identified cases.

“We will need a truly clear strategy to announce to our citizens”, he said, especially on practical issues such as - for example - what to do with new positive cases, and whether they will need to be self-isolating at home, or in dedicated hotel rooms.

Read more: French science council lists deconfinement conditions

Professor Delfraissy added that even with the anticipated slow-down of the epidemic, estimates still predict that infections will be at “10,000 to 15,000 per day” from mid-to-late May.


'Technology will not fix everything'

A smartphone app has been put in place in France to help trace the contacts of newly-infected patients, he said, but Professor Delfraissy warned that this was far from a perfect solution - as shown by countries that had already rolled out extensive smartphone tracing methods, such as South Korea.

He said: “Even though the fantasy of [South] Korea suggests that technology will fix everything, the answer is no.”

He explained that South Korea had used “a brigade of 20,000 people” to help trace the contacts of infected people, and added: “There are humans behind [the technology]. And we do not have that in France. And if we don’t have that, it will not work.” 

He predicted that France would need a team of 30,000 people working with the smartphone app to trace contacts properly.

The statements come in the same week as President Emmanuel Macron announced that deconfinement measures would begin on May 11, including the reopening of schools. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said that a full deconfinement plan is set to be unveiled “largely before” May 11.

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