PARIS – In the early days of the pandemic, President Emmanuel Macron urged the French to wage “war” against the coronavirus. Today, his message is “to learn to live with the virus.”
From full-blown conflict to Cold War inclusion, France and much of the rest of Europe have opted for coexistence as infections continue to rise, summer recedes into a risky autumn, and the possibility of another wave haunts the continent.
After leaving the hope of eradicating the virus or developing a vaccine within a few weeks, Europeans have largely returned to work and school and have led lives as normally as possible amid a persistent pandemic that has already killed nearly 21
The method stands in stark contrast to the United States, where restrictions to protect against the virus have been politically divisive, and where many regions have pushed forward with the reopening of schools, shops and restaurants without having basic protocols in place. The result has been almost as many deaths as in Europe, though among a much smaller population.
Europeans mostly use the hard-won lessons from the initial phase of the pandemic: the need to wear masks and practice social distance, the importance of testing and tracking, the critical benefits of responding wonderfully and locally. All of these measures, tightened or loosened as needed, aim to prevent the kind of national lockdowns that paralyzed the continent and paralyzed economies early this year.
“It is not possible to stop the virus,” said Emmanuel André, a leading virologist in Belgium and former spokesman for the government’s Covid-19 task force. “It’s about maintaining balance. And we have only a few tools available to do that. ”
He added, “People are tired. They do not want to go to war anymore. ”
Martial language has given way to more measured insurances.
“We are in a liver-with-virus phase,” said Roberto Speranza, Italy’s health minister, the first country in Europe to introduce a national lockdown. In an interview with the newspaper La Stampa, Mr Speranza said that although there is no “zero infection rate”, Italy was now far better equipped to deal with an increase in infections.
“There will not be another lockdown,” he said. Speranza.
There are still risks.
New infections have increased in recent weeks, especially in France and Spain. France registered more than 10,000 cases in a single day last week. The jump is not surprising, as the total number of tests performed – now around one million a week – has risen steadily and is now more than 10 times what it was in the spring.
The death rate of about 30 people a day is a small fraction of what it was at its peak, when hundreds and sometimes more than 1,000 died every day in France. That’s because those infected now tend to be younger, and health officials have learned to treat Covid-19 better, said William Dab, an epidemiologist and a former French national health director.
“The virus is still circulating freely, we are poorly controlling the chain of infection, and inevitably high-risk people – the elderly, the obese, the diabetics – will end up being affected,” Dab said.
Also in Germany, young people are overrepresented among the increasing cases of infections.
While the German health authorities test over a million people a week, a debate has begun over the relevance of infection rates to provide a snapshot of the pandemic.
In early September, only 5 percent of confirmed cases had to go to hospital for treatment, according to data from the country’s health authority. During the height of the pandemic in April, as many as 22 percent of those infected ended up in hospital treatment.
Hendrik Streeck, head of virology at a research hospital in the German city of Bonn, warned that the pandemic should not only be judged on the number of infections, but instead on deaths and hospitalizations.
“We have reached a stage where the number of infections alone is no longer that meaningful,” Streeck said.
Much of Europe was unprepared for the arrival of coronavirus, lacking masks, test kits and other basic equipment. Even nations that came out better than others, like Germany, recorded far greater death rates than Asian countries, which were much closer to the source of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, but it responded more quickly.
National lockdowns helped bring the pandemic under control across Europe. But infection rates began to rise again over the summer, after countries opened up, and people, especially young people, resumed socialization, often without adhering to social distance guidelines.
Although infections have increased, Europeans have returned to work and school this month, creating a greater chance for the virus to spread.
“We control infection chains better compared to March or April, when we were completely powerless,” said Mr. Dab, the former French national health director. “Now the challenge for the government is to find a balance between reviving the economy and protecting people’s health.”
“And it is not an easy balance,” Mr. Baptism. “They want to reassure people so that they go back to work, but at the same time we have to make them worried so that they continue to respect preventive measures. ”
Among these measures, masks are now widely available throughout Europe, and governments mostly agree on the need to wear them. Earlier this year, in the face of shortages, the French government discouraged people from wearing masks, saying they did not protect wearers and could even be harmful.
Wearing face clothing has become a part of the lives of Europeans, most of whom in March last year are still considered with suspicion and misunderstanding masking tourists from Asia, where this practice has been widespread for the past two decades.
Instead of using national lock-in with little regard for regional differences, the authorities – even in a highly centralized nation such as France – have begun to respond more quickly to local hotspots with specific measures.
On Monday, for example, officials in Bordeaux announced that in the face of an increase in infections, they would limit private gatherings to 10 people, limit visits to nursing homes and ban standing at bars.
In Germany, while the new school year has started with compulsory physical classes around the country, authorities have warned that traditional events such as carnivals or Christmas markets may have to be curtailed or even canceled. Football matches in the Bundesliga will continue to be played without fans until at least the end of October.
In the UK, where mask wearing is not very widespread or strictly enforced, authorities have tightened the rules for family gatherings in Birmingham, where infections have increased. In Belgium, people are limited to limiting their social activity to a bubble of six people.
In Italy, the government has closed villages, hospitals or even immigrant screens to contain new clusters. Antonio Miglietta, an epidemiologist who conducted contact tracing in a quarantined building in Rome in June, said months of fighting the virus had helped officials put out outbreaks before they got out of control, as they did in northern Italy. this year.
“We got better at it,” he said.
Governments still need to get better at other things.
At the peak of the epidemic, France, like many other European countries, was so desperately short of test kits that many sick people were never able to be tested.
Today, even though France performs a million tests a week, the widespread test has created delays in getting deals and results – up to a week in Paris. People can now be tested regardless of their symptoms or the history of their contacts, and officials have not established priority tests that will speed up the results for the people who are most at risk for themselves and others.
“We could have a more targeted testing policy that would probably be more useful in fighting the virus than what we are doing now,” said Lionel Barrand, president of the Union of Young Medical Biologists, adding that the French government should limit testing to humans. with prescription and participate in targeted screening campaigns to combat the emergence of clusters.
Experts said French health officials also need to greatly improve efforts to track contact, which proved crucial to the spread of the virus in Asian countries.
Following the closure of the two-month shutdown in May, France’s social security system introduced a manual contact tracking system to track infected people and their contacts. But the system, which is highly dependent on human contact trackers, has yielded mixed results.
At the start of the campaign, each infected person gave the contact tracker an average of 2.4 other names, most likely family members. The campaign steadily improved as the number of names rose to more than five in July, according to a recent report by the French health authorities.
But since then, the average number has gradually dropped to less than three contacts per. Person, while the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has increased tenfold in the meantime and increased from a seven-day average of approx. 800 new cases per Day in mid-July to an average of about 8,000 per. Today at the moment, according to figures compiled by The New York Times.
At the height of the epidemic, most people in France were extremely critical of the government’s handling of the epidemic. But polls show a majority now believes the government will handle a possible second wave better than the first.
Jérôme Carrière, a police officer who visited Paris from his home in Metz, in northern France, said it was a good sign that most people were now wearing masks.
“In the beginning, we, like all French people, were shocked and worried,” said Mr Carrière, 55, adding that two elderly family friends had died of Covid-19. “And then we adapted and went back to our normal lives.”
Reporting was contributed by Constant Méheut and Antonella Francini from Paris, Matt Apuzzo from Brussels, Gaia Pianigiani and Emma Bubola from Rome and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.