Paris doctors warn of catastrophic overload of COVID-19 cases

Critical care doctors in Paris say they may be forced to choose which patients they have the resources to save as infections surge in France.

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A patient from the Paris region and affected by the COVID-19 virus is taken out a plane at the Biarritz’s airport.

Bob Edme/AP Photo

PARIS — 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 save.

The sobering warnings were delivered Sunday in newspaper opinions signed by dozens of Paris-region doctors. They came 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 infections soaring and hospitals increasingly running short of intensive-care beds, doctors have been stepping up the pressure for a full French lockdown.

Writing in Le Journal du Dimanche, 41 Paris-region hospital doctors 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 2015 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 prioritization, 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.”

Macron remains adamant that not locking France down again this year, like some other European countries, was sound government policy, 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 94,600 virus-related deaths.

“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 stepped up this weekend with the start of injections for healthy people aged 70 and above.

More than 7.7 million people — close to 15% 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.

The European Union’s vaccine czar, Thierry Breton, told French radio RTL on Sunday that the bloc will deliver 420 million vaccine doses to its member countries by July 15.

“The vaccines are coming,” he said.

Breton also unveiled a mock-up of a proposed EU health certificate that could allow the bloc’s residents to cross its internal borders more easily. The certificate shows if people have been vaccinated, tested negative for coronavirus or recovered from it. He said the certificate would be optional and could be available by mid-June.

Leicester reported from Le Pecq, France.

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