Emmanuel Macron was he right not to confine at the end of January?

Emmanuel Macron maintains that it should not be confined to the end of January – Michel Euler / AP / SIPA

  • Asked this Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed that the decision not to reconfine France at the end of January was the right one.
  • According to him, an epidemic outbreak was predicted in February by the models and did not take place, which would prove him right.
  • “20 Minutes” wondered if this was really the case.

This Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron spoke after the European Council on a possible confinement in France from January 29, as requested by many scientists. For him, the answer is clear: “We were right not to confine France, because there was not the explosion foreseen by all the models in February. “The head of state drove the point home by guaranteeing that he had” no mea culpa to do ”on the subject.

Was the president really right not to re-define as early as January? 20 minutes make the point.

What was the situation at the end of January?

On January 29, one in ten positive tests was due to the English variant, according to estimates given by government spokesman Gabriel Attal, three times more than during the first week of January. Three thousand people were in intensive care on January 29 and 27,000 were hospitalized. Over the last seven days, France recorded 20,300 cases on average per day.

On the evening of January 29, Jean Castex announced that France was not going to reconfine itself, but would take some additional measures (closing borders and large non-food stores in particular). As of March 19, the English variant represented 67% of the cases tested. This Friday, 4,700 people are in intensive care, and 27,500 are hospitalized. France has 34,600 cases on average per day over the past week.

What were the models saying?

According to Emmanuel Macron, France did well not to reconfine because the explosion of cases predicted by epidemiological models in February did not take place. But many blame him for a truncated vision. Olivier Faure, First Secretary of the Socialist Party, tweeted this Thursday evening: “The models never mentioned an outbreak of the coronavirus in February, but that without braking the English variant would become the majority there and that it would be the explosion at the beginning. April. We are there ”, with a photo of the epidemic projections sent by… Jean Castex on January 28, showing an increase in March.

This same January 28, Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the Scientific Council, declared to
the parliamentary office for the evaluation of scientific and technological choices (OPECST) : “The arrival of the English variant could lead in mid-March to significant consequences in terms of hospitalizations and starts in intensive care. ”
In a lighting note of February 29, the Scientific Council also referred to strict confinement which “shows an ability to slow the growth in the prevalence of VOC [variant britannique] in the country. “

Pascal Crépey, epidemiologist at the École des Hautes Etudes de Santé Publique, attests: “The models predicted a rise in power of the English variant, which would become the majority during this month. This variant being more contagious, and we now know it to be more dangerous as well, the explosion was expected in March and April. It was a preventive confinement. “

However, this same report provided, without this preventive confinement, 30,000 hospitalizations per week from weeks 7 and 8, therefore from the second half of February. A figure that fortunately does not know France even at the start of this third wave, at the end of March (12,000 hospitalizations over the last seven days). As when the second confinement was decided at the end of October, projections indicated that France would experience a peak of at least 9,000 resuscitations, a figure never reached (4,900 at the peak).

A much more violent wave had indeed been anticipated, and did not take place. The same cannot be said for the rise of variants. On February 28, the Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon indicated that “the English variant represents 53% of positive cases and has officially become the majority in France”. However, “this rise in power was informed every week”, deplores Pascal Crépey. The relative stability – if not the slight decline – in cases was due to the decline in circulation of the historic source of the virus, which offset the rise in the British variant.

February was also seen as a godsend, due to the two weeks of school holidays within the month (at different times depending on the zone). Schools are increasingly suspected of being one of the biggest sources of the virus. “The idea is to extend the school holidays for everyone, in order to have four weeks without school throughout the country”, explains Pascal Crépey.

In defense of the government, the epidemiologist notes, however, that “we do not know how preventive measures would have been accepted by the population. And unsuccessful measures are obviously ineffective. “

Would France have seen an increase in March no matter what?

One of the government’s arguments for not taking action earlier is that countries that acted firmly early on, such as Germany, are also experiencing an outbreak now. Through the speech of the executive, the idea is therefore that even if it means having to tighten the screws in March, you might as well not have done so in January and have “won” two months of less restriction. After a “containment” such as the one we are currently experiencing in sixteen departments which really began on December 15, Germany has experienced an increase in the epidemic for a few days, with figures never reached since January.

In its briefing note on the variants of January 29, the Scientific Council also indicated that “the release of confinement [éventuel de février] with the epidemic growth rate and the level of teleworking recorded in january is expected to result in a rapid resurgence of cases from mid-march to april ”.

Once again, Pascal Crépey nuances: “Yes Germany is experiencing an epidemic outbreak, but its incidence is 103 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, against 325 in France on Monday. The more an increase is made from a high plateau, the more deaths and hospitalizations there are, and the more unmanageable and uncontrollable the situation becomes. An inevitable hike in March was one more – not less – argument for taking more action in February. “

Not to mention the number of deaths that could have been avoided throughout the month of February if measures had been taken. “There is no need for any model for that, a high plateau is necessarily heavy with consequences”, notes the epidemiologist. Between January 29 and this Friday, 17,758 people died from the coronavirus in France.

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