Covid-19 in France: Why are such precautions needed?

French health minister Olivier Véran has explained why such tough prevention measures are being taken in France and beyond “for a virus that has killed fewer people than ‘flu”.

Published Last updated

Mr Véran was answering a question on a TV special on the coronavirus on television channel France 2.

The question asked: “Why all these measures for a virus that has killed fewer people than ‘flu?”

The tough measures include the banning of any gathering of more than 5,000 people in a confined space, cancellations of high-profile events such as the Salon Livre Paris, the closure of key attractions such as the Louvre museum, thousands of children being stopped from returning to school, and hospital quarantines for infected people.

Mr Véran answered: “‘Flu, on average, causes about 8,000 deaths and makes 2.5 million French people ill [every year]. From what we know about coronavirus, 8 in 10 patients will develop an asymptomatic form, or with mild symptoms. This can range from a cold to a ‘flu-like illness.”

He continued: “15% of patients will have more severe respiratory problems, which can lead to pneumonia, where the lungs are infected. This often happens with older patients, who already have what we might call comorbidities, so people who are already fragile. [Covid-19] has an estimated mortality rate of 1 to 2%”.

The minister added that all of the deaths in Italy - of which there have been 79, at the time of writing - were among patients with pre-existing conditions.

He explained: “There are, nevertheless, many differences [to ‘flu], and that is why we are in a global health alert. We see patients who have a mild case for one week, and then can have stronger respiratory problems [later]. And there are also complications that can affect adults, even those who are not very old, who do not have comorbidities. And that is different, compared to the ‘flu.

“When you are faced with the unknown, and you have a virus that has mutated, which causes respiratory complications or immune problems that we still haven’t completely figured out, we must take care. We must take into account these aspects that are still unknown.”

He said: “In medicine, it is important - it’s what we call the ‘principle of precaution’, and it is necessary to take all the necessary steps as long as we do not have concrete results.”

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