Paris doctors sound alarm, warn of catastrophic overload of Covid-19 cases

Medical workers tend to a patient at the intensive care unit for patients infected with the Covid-19 at the AP-HP Ambroise Paré hospital in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, on March 8, 2021.
Medical workers tend to a patient at the intensive care unit for patients infected with the Covid-19 at the AP-HP Ambroise Paré hospital in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, on March 8, 2021. © Alain Jocard, AFP

Critical care doctors in Paris say surging coronavirus infections could soon overwhelm their ability to care for the sick in the French capital's hospitals, possibly forcing them to choose which patients they have the resources to treat.

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The sobering warning was delivered Sunday in a newspaper opinion signed by 41 Paris-region doctors. Published by Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper, it comes as French President Emmanuel Macron has been vigorously defending his decision not to completely lockdown France again as he did last year. Since January, Macron's government has instead imposed a nationwide overnight curfew and followed that with a grab-bag of other restrictions.

But with coronavirus infections soaring and hospitals increasingly running short of intensive care beds, doctors have been stepping up the pressure for a full French lockdown.

The Paris-region doctors who wrote in Le Journal du Dimanche said: “We have never known such a situation, even during the worst (terror) attacks” that targeted the French capital, notably assaults by Islamic State extremists in November 2015 at the Bataclan concert hall and other locations that killed 130 people and filled Paris emergency wards with the wounded.

The doctors predicted that softer new restrictions imposed this month on Paris and some other regions won't quickly bring the resurgent epidemic under control. They warned that hospital resources won't be able to keep pace with needs, forcing them to practice “catastrophe medicine" in the coming weeks as cases peak.

“We already know that our capacity to offer care will be overwhelmed," they wrote. “We will be obliged to triage patients in order to save as many lives as possible. This triage will concern all patients, with and without Covid, in particular for adult patients' access to critical care.”

Another group of nine critical-care doctors writing in the newspaper Le Monde also warned that intensive care units in Paris may have to refuse patients.

“The current situation is tending toward prioritisation, also called ‘triage,’” they wrote. “When just one ICU bed is available but two patients could benefit from it, it consists of deciding which of them will be admitted (and will perhaps survive) and which will not be admitted (and will quite probably die). This is where we are heading.”

They also accused Macron's government of hypocrisy “by compelling health care workers to decide which patient should live and which should die, without stating so clearly.”

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Macron remains adamant that not locking France down again this year, like some other European countries, was sound, even as more than 2,000 deaths per week push the country ever closer to the milestone of 100,000 people lost to the pandemic. The country now counts more than 94,400 dead.

On Saturday, France recorded an additional 42,619 infections over the previous 24 hours – several times the target of 5,000 daily cases Macron set in late 2020. The number of patients in intensive care rose again on Saturday to 4,791, approaching the peak of 4,903 attained during France's second wave in the autumn.

“We were right not to implement a lockdown in France at the end of January because we didn’t have the explosion of cases that every model predicted,” Macron said last week. “There won’t be a mea culpa from me. I don’t have remorse and won’t acknowledge failure.”

Macron's administration has been hoping to outrace the resurgent outbreak with its vaccination campaign, an ambition that appears increasingly unrealistic as hospitals struggle. After a sluggish start in December, France's inoculation drive has stepped up with the start this weekend of injections for healthy people aged 70 and above.

More than 7.7 million people — close to 15 percent of all French adults — have had at least one jab of either the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines. The government says the pace will continue to pick up, with France expecting to get nearly 3 million additional Pfizer doses this week.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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