France is entering a decisive week under the pressure of the third wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, the outbreak of which is causing the increase in alarm signals at the hospital and calls for stricter measures.
Saturation of hospitals, outdated schools: will there be an additional turn of the screw this week? “Nothing is decided,” replied President Emmanuel Macron in the Sunday Journal.
“For the next few days, we will look at the effectiveness of the braking measures and if necessary we will take those which are necessary”, underlines the Head of State in this interview carried out Friday evening, while the health situation is of again qualified as “critical” by the executive.
A defense council is to be held on Wednesday to decide on a possible toughening of the measures.
The epidemic progressed almost everywhere in France in March, pushed by the English variant considered to be more contagious and more virulent.
The number of patients in intensive care rose to 4,791 on Saturday evening, approaching the peak of the second wave in the fall (4,903). A total of 94,492 people have died since the start of the epidemic.
Since midnight Friday, three departments, Rhône, Aube and Nièvre, have joined the 16 others, including Paris and its region, subject to more severe restrictive measures: no travel more than 10 km without exemption, no exit from the territory without a compelling reason, shops closed and half-classes in high school.
At the same time, 24 other departments are under increased vigilance. In the rest of the country, a curfew is in effect from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Everywhere, bars, restaurants, cultural places remain closed.
“The battle for the next few days is simple. Pragmatism and an adapted response to the virus, braking measures in particular intended to protect caregivers and vulnerable people and a general mobilization to roll out our plan of attack on the vaccine, ”anticipates Emmanuel Macron.
Because in the field the alarm signals are multiplying.
In Île-de-France, 41 crisis medical directors of the Hospitals of Paris evoke a “disaster medicine situation”, saying they are preparing to have to “sort out patients in order to save as many lives as possible”, in a forum published by the JDD.
“In the next fortnight”, say the signatories, “we already know that our support capacities will be exceeded”.
In National Education, testimonies relate the difficulties in making schools work with teaching and administrative staff affected by the epidemic.
“For several weeks and every day more, the health situation in schools (in the department) has deteriorated. Students, teachers, municipal staff (…) are more and more infected by the virus, “warned on Saturday five mayors of Seine – Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris particularly affected.
Among 0-14 year olds, the incidence rate increased by 31% from March 15 to 21 compared to the previous week, according to the epidemiological point published on Friday by the health agency, even if they are not seriously ill : 126 patients under the age of 20 were hospitalized on Saturday due to the Covid.
Unlike many of its European neighbors, France has not closed its schools even if the appearance of a patient in a class now leads to its closure in the reconfigured departments.
But voices are multiplying, among teachers’ unions, or certain politicians, such as the leader of the far right Marine Le Pen, to demand their closure.
For the Head of State, “the complete closure of schools cannot be taboo, but it must remain a last resort and a measure limited to the maximum in time”.
Many epidemiologists recommend tightening restrictions. And elected officials are asking for the extension of vaccination, open on Saturday to over 70s without comorbidities.
“It would be a bad political and health choice”, for Emmanuel Macron. “If I opened up to all age groups at once, there would be social and territorial inequalities in access to the vaccine,” he says.
While nearly 3 million additional doses are expected this week, the president is betting on the deployment of vaccination “mega-centers” to keep his commitment to “offer a vaccine to all adults who want it before the end of the summer” .