Some scientists do not hesitate to assert that the epidemic is behind us, the health authorities remain cautious.
First crucial indicator, Intensive care admissions. Their “daily number (…) is still decreasing since April 8,” said the health agency Public Health France in its latest bulletin Thursday. Currently, around 1,700 patients are hospitalized in the intensive care unit for a severe form of Covid-19, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health. They were 2,200 a week earlier, and 7,148 on April 8 for the highest total ever.
Resuscitation, death, contamination … Almost 15 days after deconfinement, these indicators are rather positive. Authorities say it is too early to draw conclusions, but some scientists no longer hesitate to say that the Covid-19 epidemic is behind us, with the possibility that part of the population is immune.
Likewise, deaths are steadily declining. Between Thursday and Friday, 74 Covid-19 patients died in hospitals (not counting deaths in nursing homes and establishments for the disabled). We are very far from the daily reports in early April when there were sometimes more than 600 deaths in the hospital alone.
In total, more than 28,000 people died in connection with the Covid-19. Everywhere in France, this epidemic was accompanied by an excess of mortality, underlines Santé publique France. This was “particularly marked in the Grand Est and Ile-de-France regions” and during the period from March 16 to April 26, with a peak during the week from March 30 to April 5. This excess mortality “tends to return to usual levels”, according to the health agency. She also observed a decrease in emergency visits to Covid-19, which “reflects a decrease in new contaminations”.According to health authorities, it is premature to rejoice. “All we can say is that today we have no warning signal but that it is too early to draw from this observation that everything will be fine”, says Daniel Lévy -Bruhl, head of the respiratory infections unit at Public Health France. “There is a gap between what we measure today and what it corresponds to: what we measure today is still the benefits of confinement,” he continues.
Mechanically, the lifting of the containment since May 11 must necessarily lead to an increase in the number of infections since the contacts between people multiply, warn the authorities. “The whole question is to keep this increase within the limits of what is acceptable,” emphasizes Dr. Lévy-Bruhl.
The government’s dread is a return to the pre-containment scenario, with an explosion in the number of cases that would saturate the health system. To avoid this, it relies on a device combining tests, identifying people in contact with a positive case (or “contact tracing“) and the isolation of the sick.
For the time being, Public Health France has identified 46 outbreaks of infection (or “clusters”) across the territory. For the most part, the first cases date from before the containment was lifted. “The optimistic view is that the identification of a cluster is good news because it confirms the device’s ability to identify them and break the transmission chains,” comments Dr Lévy-Bruh. “The risk of a second wave exists, it is up to all of us collectively to ensure that it does not happen, “he adds.
- For some, it’s almost the end
Contrary to the dominant discourse, some scientists, minority but more and more numerous, judge that the epidemic is coming to an end. “Eventually some sporadic cases will appear here or there (but) the epidemic is ending”, assured the controversial Professor Didier Raoult in a video posted on May 12.
A point of view defended by others, according to which the epidemic affected all those it could touch. Their central argument: it is wrong to consider that the entire population is a target. “A significant part of the population may not be sensitive to the coronavirus, because non-specific antibodies to this virus can stop it,” explains epidemiologist Laurent Toubiana.
An opinion shared by Pr Yonathan Freund, emergency doctor at the Paris hospital of Pitié-Salpêtrière. He was struck by the drastic drop in the number of infections among his colleagues compared to the start of the epidemic. “In the emergency room and in the hospital, we are particularly exposed. If the virus circulated as much as before and we were all likely to be affected, we would have been infected between us or we would have been by the sick. However, the vast majority of doctors have not been affected at all. This is pure speculation but it could mean that people have natural or acquired immunity, “he said.
This hypothesis, which remains to be verified, was raised by American researchers in the specialized journal Cell : According to them, 40 to 60% of the population could be immunized against Covid-19 without even having been exposed to it. In this hypothesis, the new coronavirus would no longer have many people to infect.
Since the lifting of the containment, the government has repeated that it will take at least two weeks to start to see more clearly. “Maybe next week we will have elements,” says Dr. Lévy-Bruhl. “The sword of Damocles” of a “resumption of the epidemic dynamic” is always present, which could even lead, “in a worst case scenario”, to “a necessity to reconfigure“, he warns.
This is why he judges “premature to base a hope on a cross immunity”, hypothesis “far from being unanimous and far from being reinforced”. According to him, “above all, we should not send the message to the population that everything is fine because we realized that everyone was protected”.
“I understand that we are very cautious at the idea of making a new prophecy, because everyone was so planted at the start and me first,” argues Professor Freund for his part. “We must stop infantilizing everyone,” he said. “If I am ever mistaken and there is a new circulation of the virus, well we will see it and we can take action.”