August 1, 2021

The heavy human cost of a third late confinement in France

How many human lives could have been saved? How many hospitalizations, traumatic passages in intensive care, long sequelae could have been avoided if the government had confined the French at the beginning of February, as the scientists advised him, and not at the beginning of April, constrained and forced by the saturation of hospitals ?

The question may seem anachronistic as France, partially deconfined, is now savoring its new-found freedom. Fewer than 12,000 hospitalized patients, including less than 2,000 in intensive care, ie three times less than two months ago; less than 50 deaths per day on average over the last seven days; and a number of contaminations passed, for a week, below the symbolic bar of 5,000, the objective posted by Emmanuel Macron in the fall of 2020 and never reached until then: the dashboard of the epidemic shines with a bright green. But this decline, its rhythm and its slope allow us to ask the angry question. What would have happened if Emmanuel Macron had listened to his scientific advice and taken the same measures two months earlier?

Likely order of magnitude

According to our estimates, around 14,600 deaths, 112,000 hospitalizations, including 28,000 in intensive care, and 160,000 long-term Covid-19 cases could have been avoided.

To achieve this result, we carried out a fairly simple exercise: we took the evolution curves of the three main epidemiological indicators (deaths, resuscitations, hospitalizations), carried out from national data from mainland France published by the health security agency Public Health France, and we postponed them by two months upstream. The evolution observed from 1is April is therefore anticipated on the 1is February. We first observe a slowdown in progression, stabilization, then a massive decline from the third week following the restriction measures, first noticeable in hospitalizations, then in intensive care, and finally massively on deaths. Then all that remains is to evaluate the difference between the two curves.

Regarding long Covid-19s, we proceeded slightly differently. Experts agree that one in ten symptomatic people develop a chronic form of the disease, with symptoms persisting for at least six months after infection. But the exact number of symptomatic cases remains poorly assessed, some patients escaping the radar of the health administration. We therefore recalculated it from the number and rate of hospitalization among symptomatic people, a value known in the different age groups. It thus appears that approximately 1.62 million symptomatic cases could have been avoided, and therefore some 160,000 Covid-19 long. Solicited by The world, the Ministry of Health did not wish “Comment on figures for which he does not know the methodology”.

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