France crisis: Emmanuel Macron shamed over ‘disappointing’ coronavirus health strategy

France has seen the fourth highest tally of fatalities in the world, behind the United States, Italy and Spain. Together, the four countries account for nearly two-thirds of global deaths. French President Emmanuel Macron’s coronavirus-containment strategy is “unclear,” former health minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Wednesday. Mr Douste-Blazy, a former UN under-secretary-general, told Le Figaro newspaper in an interview: “While I appreciate the president’s humble approach to the crisis, I must admit that I simply do not understand his government’s health strategy.

“I’m disappointed because there cannot be an effective health strategy without a strong public health strategy.”

He also warned the virus would only disappear “if we separate the sick from the healthy” – something he said France has failed to do.

Mr Douste-Blazy also emphasised the need for a “global response” to the outbreak.

He said: “This crisis is a sad reminder that the World Health Organisation does not have the means of taking binding action to prepare countries for this sort of pandemic.”

The French government has come under fire from critics for its slow response to the health crisis, who have also denounced its muddled messages regarding social distancing rules in the early days of the outbreak.  

On Monday, Mr Macron announced he was extending a virtual lockdown to curb the epidemic until May 11, saying that while progress had been made the battle against the disease was not yet over.

Since March 17, France’s 67 million people have been under strict stay-at-home orders, and are only allowed to go outside to buy food, go to work, seek medical care or get some exercise.

Macron said: “When will we be able to return to a normal life? I would love to be able to answer you.

“But, to be frank, I have to humbly tell you we don’t have definitive answers.”

Schools and some shops will progressively reopen next month, he said.

But restaurants, hotels, cafés and cinemas will remain shut longer.

The 42-year-old centrist, whose government has also faced criticism over a shortage of face masks and testing kits, added that France would be able to test anyone presenting coronavirus symptoms and give non-professional face masks to the public by the time the lockdown is lifted.

He said: “Were we prepared for this crisis? On the face of it, not enough. But we coped. 

“This moment, let’s be honest, has revealed cracks, shortages.

“Like every country in the world, we have lacked gloves, hand gel, we haven’t been able to give out as many masks as we wanted to our health professionals.”

The French, used to being told they have access to one of the best healthcare systems in the world, have been outraged by the rationing of critical drugs, face masks and medical equipment.

France’s official death toll from coronavirus infections neared 18,000 on Thursday, though positive data suggested the spread of the disease was finally slowing.  

Jerome Salomon, the head of the public health authority, said the number of people in hospital had dropped for a second day running, and that the total number in intensive care units (ICU) had fallen for the eighth day in a row.

“Our collective efforts demonstrate their effectiveness. The spread of the virus is stabilising at a high level … and that is good news,” Mr Salomon told reporters.

“The decline in intensive care needs is consolidating, but 6,248 patients in ICU is still a much higher figure than the initial maximum capacity in these units in France,” he added.

Before the virus started to spread, France had 5,000 hospital beds equipped with ventilation gear.

The total number of confirmed and possible coronavirus infections in France currently stands at 146,606.

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