Tension at the top: French medics push for lockdown, government resists

·2-min read

Two leading French health officials have called for more restrictive measures to rein in the spread of Covid-19 infections, in the latest sign of increasing tensions between government and scientists on how to handle the issue.

"We're still at a high plateau in France. At one point it will be too high and, to new restrictive measures will be inevitable to bring it down," Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at Paris' Saint Antoine hospital, told France Inter radio on Friday.

Frederic Valletoux, president of the French hospital federation, went further and called for a new national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

"I have been calling for a new lockdown," Valletoux, who is also mayor of Fontainebleau just south of Paris, told LCI TV on Friday morning. He added that while the situation in hospitals was under control for now, it remained "very tense" in many areas.

He said France was "on a razor edge," and hoped that President Macron's "gamble" not to reconfine would pay off.

The two French health experts spoke the day after Prime Minister Jean Castex said that while the Covid-19 situation in France remained fragile, it did not justify a third lockdown for the moment.

He said the rate of infection had not significantly increased over the past two weeks, even if French hospitals were under pressure.

“We must stick with the current restrictions we already have in place [...] but the situation today does not justify a new national lockdown,” he told a news conference.

As of Thursday, the seven-day moving average of daily new Covid infections stayed above the 20,000 threshold for the 13th consecutive day (see table below).

The number of patients treated in intensive care units (ICUs) for the disease went down for the second day running but remains above the 3,000 limit.

The government had set targets of daily new infections lower than 5,000 on average and a total of patients in ICUs between 2,500 and 3,000 when it decided to replace the second national lockdown, that ran from 30 October to 15 December, by an 8 pm curfew.

No easing-up

President Emmanuel Macron's government is currently sticking with its 6pm-6am nationwide curfew rather than a full-blown national lockdown.

In his news conference, Castex said the country's progressive tightening of restrictions had allowed it to keep the economy more open than some neighbours had been able to.

But he insisted there could be "no easing-up" and called on companies to enforce more remote working from home.

“Working from home is imperative whenever possible,” he said.

(with Reuters)