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The government is changing its strategy to live with Covid-19, but are we ready?

After two years of the pandemic, and almost as many health restrictions weighing on our daily lives, the measures linked to Covid-19, everyone is fed up. And two months before the first round of the presidential election, the government has understood this and is adapting its strategy, deciding that today is the time to live with the virus. It is therefore time for optimism and the gradual lifting of restrictions.

No more outdoor masks and compulsory telework, and from February 16, vaccinated people will be able to find nightclubs and standing concerts. And that’s not all, “if the epidemic follows its course with a drop in Omicron, [la fin du masque en intérieur] it will be in the spring, ”promised the Minister of Health Olivier Véran on Wednesday. But if the peak of the Omicron wave seems to have passed, with still more than 200,000 daily contaminations and millions of unvaccinated people, are we ready to coexist in complete safety with the coronavirus and without any further restrictions? Can vaccination coverage alone lead to the end of the pandemic?

Few real restrictions for several months

“You have to see what we call today “restrictions”. These are no longer containment measures or curfews, which have not been used in France for many months, they are more bearable for the greatest number, “said Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist and director of the Institute of global health in Geneva. Thus, “despite the outbreak of contamination by the Omicron variant at the end of the year, France has not reconfigured as Germany and the Netherlands have been able to do”, adds Dr Benjamin Davido, infectious disease specialist and referring doctor of Covid-19 crisis at the Raymond-Poincaré hospital in Garches (Hauts-de-Seine).

“The lifting of the obligation to wear a mask outdoors is welcome, especially since its effectiveness has never been demonstrated”, underline the epidemiologist and the infectious disease specialist together. As for the lifting of gauges and the reopening of nightclubs, “the French have adapted their way of life, they telework more and frequent closed public places less. And I’m not sure there’s going to be a rush to nightclubs as soon as they reopen,” continues Dr. Davido.

Today, the restrictions mainly weigh on unvaccinated people who, without a vaccination pass, are deprived of access to many closed public places. “This form of disguised compulsory vaccination is intended to stimulate the vaccination of the population and protect it from serious forms, but also to protect the unvaccinated in spite of themselves by preventing them from frequenting the bars, restaurants and public transport where Omicron circulates massively among the vaccinated people,” recalls Antoine Flahault.

Beware of “premature” easing

But if the peak of contamination seems to have finally been reached in this Omicron wave, “we must remain cautious in the face of the risk of false flat, like the United Kingdom, which has experienced a strong epidemic and hospital recovery under the effect of the Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant. However, if it begins to take shape, we have still not reached the peak of hospitalizations, ”warns Dr. Davido. “And pediatric hospitalizations have never been so high since the start of the pandemic”, adds Antoine Flahault.

In this context, are we ready to remove our masks indoors in the spring and free ourselves from the vaccination pass this summer, as Olivier Véran promised a few days ago? With more than 200,000 daily contaminations in France, “removing the gauges and the vaccine pass too quickly still seems premature, whereas these are measures intended to protect the population against serious forms and avoid congestion in hospitals”, judges the epidemiologist. However, “faced with such a contagious variant, complicated to curb but less virulent, and it is legitimate to move forward, tempers Dr. Davido. In addition, we are getting closer to the presidential election, which inevitably plays a role: now that the peak has been exceeded, for the image, the government must show that the country is moving forward”.

But if the time is for optimism, caution should remain in order. “The winter holidays are starting, and we have seen it over the past two years, they are accompanied by epidemic rebounds: two years ago, we had the Contamines-Montjoie cluster in Haute-Savoie, and the year last, with the third wave, we spent the first semester under curfew. We must not declare victory too soon and underestimate the impact of population movements during these holidays, insists the infectiologist. A few weeks ago, we still didn’t know about the looming Omicron wave. The government should not be presumptuous with overly optimistic announcements. There is nothing to confirm that there will be no backlash in the fall with new variants and an epidemic resumption”.

Living with the virus, but not catching it

So in practice, how to live with the virus without catching it, without risking a new paralysis of the economy or sacrificing human lives to it? “There is no secret: we have a vaccine which has proven its effectiveness against serious forms, so we must continue the effort to achieve collective immunity, prescribes Dr. Davido. And when this is done, we will accept a certain risk-taking in the face of the virus by lifting the very last measures. There, we will no longer reason in terms of restrictions, especially since everything is not the sole responsibility of the State, but in terms of reflexes: just as when it rains, we take an umbrella, when we will be in the seasonality of the virus, we will have these automatisms to respect barrier gestures, to do your vaccination reminder and to wear the mask indoors. As is the case for the seasonal flu, which kills thousands of people every year, without confining ourselves”.

Living with the virus, “is accepting to be dependent on the epidemic situation, and the measures it may require, he adds. But targeted measures: rather than testing everyone, perhaps in the future screening should be refocused only on people at risk: this would again make it possible to have reliable indicators to prevent hospital saturation , as was the case a few months ago. We must find “health indicators accepted by all which would tell us when we can lift the measures”, abounds Antoine Flahault.

In the meantime, if we want to cohabit without risk with the virus, “one of the keys is to work on improving indoor air quality, an area on which the Europeans have not yet sketched out the slightest constructed reflection, ”laments the epidemiologist. However, with nearly 17,000 classes closed due to Covid and while the timetable for lifting restrictions continues, “we must urgently clean up the indoor air, where we spend 90% of our time and where 99% of contamination occurs, ”insists the epidemiologist. Finally, “we must continue to invest in vaccines, antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies, pursue therapeutic innovation to make Covid-19 less severe and less deadly”.

Source: 20minutes

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