Thursday, 25 February, 2021

“We do not yet know what the spread of this virus will be in the population”, explains an official of the Institut Pasteur


The French arrived from the city of Wuhan in China are placed in quarantine – Pascal GUYOT / AFP

  • The number of coronavirus-related deaths has exceeded the symbolic mark of 300 in China.
  • In France, only six people are infected with the virus that appeared in China at the end of December. But a wave of anxiety seems to be gaining the population who rushes into the protective masks and floods with calls the SAMU teams.
  • If “we do not yet know what will be the real spread of this virus in the population”, France has the health facilities necessary to deal with a possible epidemic of this virus, says Arnaud Fontanet, director of the Department of Global Health at Institut Pasteur and professor at Cnam.

A wind of panic is blowing over France. Will our country be hit head-on by the coronavirus, this disease from China which has caused the death of more than 300 people there since mid-December? While six people have been infected and hospitalized, the French are worried,
rush on the protective masks and
flood the Samu teams with calls to ask them all kinds of questions about the virus.

In addition, hundreds of people who have returned from China have been quarantined when they got off the plane, raising the concerns of residents of the villages hosting them. Is the fear of this coronavirus really justified? For the knowledge, 20 minutes asked the epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet, director of the Department of Global Health at the Institut Pasteur and professor at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (Cnam).

Are we right to be afraid of this Coronavirus?

You have to understand that we are faced with an unprecedented situation. It’s a new virus that’s arriving in humans So there’s a perfectly legitimate amount of anxiety associated with it. You could say there are other dangerous respiratory infections, like the flu. Every year,
on average, 10,000 people who die from the flu in France. But that doesn’t move us much more than that. This new Coronavirus, today, six people are infected on French soil, and there are still no deaths. But we do not yet know what the real spread of this virus will be in the population. We are just gathering the first information.

We have seen that in China there is a massive epidemic which is controlled by extremely draconian means. In France, we have a surveillance system that is already operational, hospital beds dedicated to this type of patient and contact monitoring over a two-week period. So far, all but the sixth infected person have returned from China. He is a doctor who had examined an infected person since returning from Asia, but was diagnosed soon after.

What is your main concern about this virus?

My current fear is the possible spread of the virus in countries with more fragile health structures and who would have difficulty coping with it. I am thinking, for example, of India where a first case was diagnosed three days ago, of the Philippines where another patient was detected three days ago also before dying. There is also sub-Saharan Africa where there is a lot of trade with China; if the virus arrived, the answer would be very difficult to implement. If other outbreaks set in and became active, it would greatly complicate our ability to control this epidemic globally. It is the long term that will tell us what the real severity of this virus will be.

Do we know how the epidemic will evolve in the coming weeks?

It’s still too early to tell, because households can move to other countries. In China, conflicting data is circulating. Modeling placed the peak of the epidemic in late April. It seems a little late to me. Besides, they are seasonal viruses, so we will have to see the impact that milder temperatures can have.

We talk about Coronavirus, but in reality there are several….

There are already six coronaviruses that infect men. Four are seasonal, including those who give colds. There was also the SARS coronavirus in 2003, that of the seas in the Gulf countries which has been circulating since 2013 and which is transmitted by dromedaries. This new coronavirus, which comes from the city of Wuhan, is closer in its way of behaving sras than seasonal coronavirus which gives colds. There are severe lung diseases with mortality for hospital patients which can be high. Afterwards, there may be benign forms in the community that do not lead to hospitalizations and that would cause his mortality to be lower than sras. But for now, on hospitalized forms, it is a coronavirus that can kill 10 to 15% of people.

Who are the people most affected by this new coronavirus?

For the moment, it is adults who are affected. Especially people over the age of 65 who are at risk of complications and dying, or those who have other associated illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension.

Is research underway to find a vaccine?

Yes. There are several vaccines in the pipeline but be aware that it takes time. Most optimistic estimates are that the vaccine will be ready within a year.

Are there gestures to adopt to limit contagion?

For now, it should be remembered that this coronavirus circulates in an extremely limited way in France since only one transmission has been detected on the territory. On the other hand, people who return from China and who, within the following 15 days, have symptoms such as fever and respiratory signs, are invited to call immediately on the 15th, and not to go to the emergency room or to their doctor. . By talking to the Samu regulator, they will see if it is necessary to consider isolation for a specific diagnostic test.

Several hundred people who have returned from China have been quarantined. Do you think this measure is effective?

It’s a good measure. They are for 14 days, this is the maximum incubation period of the disease. If they were infected during this period, we would know.

Can the virus mutate?

It is one of the mutant RNA viruses, so it may become more transmissible. It is a possibility because it is adapting to humans. But at the moment, he’s not mutating much.



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