Written by : Fugel Khan
Student of Masters in Social Science, University Paris 8, Saint Denis
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
A French perspective: Part 2
I love you… neither do I!
On March 17, the former Health Minister Agnès Buzyn’s confession in ‘Le Monde’ newspaper came as political bombshell against the government that she had warned the President and the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe as early as January of an impending health catastrophe.
The former Health Minister, who replaced Benjamin Griveaux, the original candidate weaken by sex scandal, to represent the LREM in the municipal elections in Paris only on 17 February resigning from her ministerial post, said she was fully aware of the scale of the Covid-19 epidemic since January. But for his detractors these confessions came very late. Indeed, some accuse her of attempting to save herself because of the non-existent precautionary measures before the arrival of the epidemic, especially since this happens at the end of the first round of the municipal elections where she came in 3rd position securing 18% of votes behind the outgoing mayor Anne Hidalgo (Socialist Party) at 30% and Rachida Dati (Republican Party) at 22%.
After participating in and supporting the government’s policy in the face of the crisis and once the municipal elections in Paris were lost, she let go of the government and implicitly acknowledged that she had voluntarily lied to the voters when she said that the risk of an epidemic was nil, that there was no need to take measures, that there was no need to close the border, cancel the elections, order masks and test kits. So many errors of analysis in one single case raise questions about the sincerity of the former minister.
If we follow the former minister’s reasoning, the high authorities of the state were aware of the arrival of this disaster. But no action has been taken. In times of war, there is a war industry without which it is lost in advance. In this case it was a matter of anticipating orders and manufacturing of masks, tests, hydro-alcoholic gel etc., but no action was taken. This mixture of dissimilation of truth and amateurism made it look like a case of betrayal in the middle of a sanitary war.
On 18 March, the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe asked parliament to declare a state of health emergency, the suspension of parliament and thus of democratic rules, in order to legitimize exceptional measures during this exceptional situation. Drastic measures worthy of the Orwellian utopia were taken without any notification on the end of the measures. After a test period in a few cities, surveillance of the lockdown by drones was generalized in the cities. There were also mobile phones tracking by Orange in order to record the exodus of Parisians. The debate on tracking has therefore been launched. Several ordinances have also modified labour law by favouring employers who can ask employees : to work up to 60 hours/week, to work on Sundays, to work 7 days a week, to reduce rest time etc., the transport, logistics, food-processing, energy and telecom sectors are mainly concerned.
Masks and tests are useless but at the same time we don’t have any!
The government has not given any figures on available masks and tests. On the contrary, they announced several times that masks were of no use and were not necessary, while at the same time asking French people who have a stock of masks to donate them to health personals. We are talking about masks, and a state like France, which is one of the world’s leading powers, is asking its citizens not to wear masks and to donate them. As if sarcasm had no limits, the government had asked the police and gendarmes in charge of enforcing confinement not to wear masks. Needless to say, the number of cases of contamination among police officers has exploded, with more than 10,000 police officers currently under observation on suspicion of coronavirus infection. Several doctors have died from coronavirus infection in the course of their work. It should be noted that the denigration of the mask in Europe has not only led to incomprehension, but also to consternation in Asia, and the call not to wear masks in France if one is not ill is seen as a serious mistake. All the more so as scarcity in times of crisis means a black market, giving access to the privileged and therefore there are also victims. This is how the nurses worked without masks, in the 16th district of Paris very important seizures of masks took place, seizures of masks also took place in the 1st district and in Sèvres.
One only has to look at the methods used by the states that have already emerged from this health crisis, such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan… all these states were heavily affected as early as February, but they chose the mass screening method in order to confine the carriers of the virus instead of envisaging a lockdown, and also the wearing of masks by the entire population in order to minimize the risks of contamination. Although this preparation is justified by the fact that these countries are more affected by epidemics, the wearing of masks is a cultural fact even in normal times and the strict observance of the guidelines, nevertheless they anticipated mass screening and masks, which enabled them to get out of the crisis fairly quickly, which was certainly not the case in Western countries in general.
Germany is the only country in Europe with a large population to fare better than others, in a similar situation. On the one hand, unlike France, they were able to keep their industries active, which resulted in strong growth, and on the other hand, they anticipated the stock of screening tests. Indeed, from the beginning of the crisis Germany was already at 500,000 screening tests per week while France was struggling to reach 50,000 per week. There is also talk of extending these tests up to 200 000 per day by the end of April. This is obviously being done with the support of their industries like Bosch, Bayer and others, which they have managed to keep up. Anticipating this policy has enabled them to be ahead of France as well, and by the time we reach their screening figures they will certainly be finished with the virus. On 7th April, Germany has 1905 deaths out of 105,604 infected people, a lethality rate of about 1.8%, compared to 9% in France. Admittedly, due to the lack of kits, many people were not detected, which partly explains the high lethality rate in France, but this is not enough. Indeed the lockdown in itself is not enough, it is seen as a method of the Middle Ages or Third World by the detractors of the government, even if it is slightly caricatured, the method of “mass confinement without screening” is widespread in African countries or as Pakistan or India. A country like France should have handled this situation much better. Another comparison with Germany, in January/February when the government explained to us that the risk was nil, that there was no reason to panic, invited us to go to the theatre and lead our usual life, Germany was already preparing for the upcoming war and had launched its production of masks and test kits.
Didier Raoult, the scientist from Marseille: a refractory Gaul, but a healer or a charlatan?
While the debate on masks and test has not yet come to an end, however, there is a new debate that fundamentally divides the scientific community and the great bodies of the State.
But then why such a radical division over this character and his treatment? At a time when, basically, this health crisis is beginning to take its toll, and everyone agrees to put an end to it, can there be a conflict of egos in the highest state institutions?
First of all, I insist that personally I am not an expert in the field of biology, medicine or infectiology. Therefore, there will be no medical opinion on treatment, but rather an observation from a distance and an analysis of the chronology of events in order to provide some precision and clarity.
First of all, Didier Raoult is not someone who came out of nowhere, he comes with a well-filled CV. To his credit, hundreds of internationally recognized articles, a dozen awards and decorations, he has co-authored more than 3,000 articles. He’s one of the top infectious disease researchers in the world. He directs the “IHU – Infectious Diseases of Marseille”, as well as several hundred researchers in his centre. He was a member of the government’s scientific committee. He has discovered and named several dozen viruses, including two that bear his name ‘Raoultella planticola’ and ‘Rickettsia raoultii’.
With his Gallic physique and refractory behaviour, the character of Panoramix from the comic book Asterix stands out, the druid having the magic potion to turn the villagers invincible against the Roman invaders…
On 25 February, in an IHU press release, he states that he has found a “very promising” treatment, which is chloroquine, a molecule known for more than 50 years against malaria, which he has administered to more than 4,000 people, and which is taken by Europeans travelling in Africa. The start was made by a Chinese research base, which praised the treatment without any communication or scientific publication. In order to lower the viral load he recommends hydroxychloroquine, which he adds in combination with an antibiotic, azithromycin. Nevertheless he warns people against self-medication. It is with great restraint and caution that the press releases are published on the official website of the IHU.
Then followed a media and political surge for a new subject, by hyping the case as a “miracle cure” when it was not the words of Professor Raoult. At the beginning, little is said about it, often in a partial and biased manner. Indeed, the interventions in the media were often by the detractors of Professor Raoult, people from the university hospital environment who did not hesitate to castigate him, deplores Patrick Pelloux, doctor, writer, PDT AMUF. He was criticized for the lack of method and scientific data of a study without a protocol. Later, facing lack of scientists, television channel BFM and others, even invited non medical characters like Daniel Cohn Bendit who had no other argument than to say “Better he keeps his mouth shut”. This treatment in the media, had become obvious to the general public, who converted to worship the professor, began to multiply in social networks and alternative media. In the same period Donald Trump, as well as other governments began to boast treatment.
In a tweet, Professor Raoult announced that China, Iran, the Netherlands, Belgium, Korea, India, New York City and the Lombardy region of Italy have included the treatment in their recommendation. Other countries have since joined the list, such as Morocco, which has requisitioned the entire stock of hydroxychloroquine from the Sanofi plant located in the country.
(To be continued…)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Multidimension’s editorial stance.