COVID-19 lockdown: What is France's exit strategy?

A couple wearing protective masks walks their dog front of a closed shop during a nationwide confinement to counter the COVID-19, in Paris Sunday April 12, 2020.
A couple wearing protective masks walks their dog front of a closed shop during a nationwide confinement to counter the COVID-19, in Paris Sunday April 12, 2020. Copyright Francois Mori/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
By Orlando Crowcroft
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A new report claims mass testing and isolation of the sick is the only way to prevent a second wave of infections even after the lockdown ends.


French President Emmanuel Macron extended France's lockdown by one month to avoid the spread of COVID-19 on Monday night, but he also outlined what would change after May 11 - and, crucially, what would not.

While Macron confirmed that certain sectors of the economy would go back to work after May 11 and that schools and kindergartens would re-open, he also said that restrictions would remain on public gatherings and that bars and restaurants may remain closed into the summer months.

Hours before Macron spoke, a report by the National Institute of Health and Medical Research said that even if lockdown measures end in France, extensive testing is needed to prevent a surge of new infections.

It claimed that ending the lockdown in France without testing, isolation for at-risk residents and social distancing measures, could lead to a peak in severe cases that would require 40-times the current level of intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

It concluded that schools will need to remain closed and older residents isolated, as well as strict social distancing kept in place for the remainder of 2020.

“Lifting lockdown with no exit strategy in place will inevitably lead to large rebound effects, as the immunity of the population is estimated to be still very low - from 1% to 6%,” the report says.

“Control of the epidemic without overwhelming the healthcare system requires coupling social distancing measures with aggressive testing to promptly identify infectious individuals and isolate them.”

While France will re-open schools, Macron committed on Monday to being able to test anyone who shows symptoms of the virus by the end of the lockdown period. He also said that medical masks - which have been sold out in pharmacies since the beginning of the crisis - would be avavliable to anyone who needs them by May 11.

The lockdown has seen millions of people across France confined to their homes, only permitted to leave to buy essential goods, visit doctors or exercise. As a result of social distancing, contact between people in France have been reduced by 80%, the report said.

That is higher than in the UK, where lockdown restrictions are less severe than on the continent, but lower than in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the virus, which was 86% and Shanghai, where the reduction in contact during its months-long lockdown was as high as 89%.

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