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Jean Castex, un haut fonctionnaire connaissant le secteur de la santé, a été choisi pour piloter la stratégie de la France visant à assouplir les mesures de verrouillage de Covid-19. Il doit le faire sans déclencher une deuxième vague d'infections.
Côté expérience, Jean Castex coche toutes les bonnes cases.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe described him last Thursday as “incredibly effective” during a televised speech to the nation which broke with its usual reservation.
Several politicians have also praised the man who is now responsible for orchestrating the process of “deconfinement” of the country, which Philippe himself recognized as being “terribly complex”.
This may sound like a big challenge, but Castex is as sharp as a “Swiss knife,” said former Nicolas Sarkozy presidential adviser Franck Louvrier.
“Not only is he a senior official, who knows the administration like the back of his hand, but he also has experience at the local level and therefore knows how the country works from top to bottom,” Louvrier told the weekly French Point.
Mayor of Prades in Perpignan, in the south of France, Castex is also president of the National Sports Agency and until recently was the inter-ministerial delegate for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
But it is in the area of health that the 54-year-old has refined his skills.
Right-wing politician Xavier Bertrand hired him in 2004 to manage hospitals and clinics when he was Minister of Social Affairs under Jacques Chirac, before turning Castex into chief of staff to the Minister of Health.
There, Castex got a taste of what a pandemic strategy would look like, planning to stockpile masks and other essential equipment before the plan was abandoned.
“He knows what he’s doing. He’s someone very solid, “said Bertrand.
It is this experience that Macron’s government is counting on to implement the Covid-19 exit strategy.
Few in France are ready to openly discuss easing restrictions, not least because most experts fear it will weaken the public’s determination to abide by the lock rules.
The French Prime Minister has admitted that any easing of home stay orders should be gradual to avoid a second wave of infections that could overwhelm health services.
So what are the exit options?
- Let people out on a regional basis
- Choose by age group
- Separate essential from non-essential work
- Identify immunized people
France has been strictly blocked since March 17, all non-essential movement outside the home being prohibited and everyone must have a signed, timed and dated authorization form each time they leave.
The containment period has been extended once already until April 15 due to the high rate of daily infections, and many believe it will be further extended, despite signs of a slowdown in the virus.
Medical experts want France to massively increase its capacity to test, monitor and quarantine suspected cases before the lifting of any blocking measure.
Currently, the country does not have the means to do so. The Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, hopes to be able to offer some 80,000 Covid-19 tests per day at the end of April, compared to 12,000 currently, before bringing this figure to 100,000 by June.
I can’t stay at home forever
However, crucial antibody tests to identify recovered coronavirus patients, who can be immunized, are still lacking in France.
Experts believe that screening for antibodies is necessary to distinguish between vulnerable and immune people, which could prove decisive in determining who should return to work and school.
Sixty-five million people in France are currently locked out, which not only weighs on the economy – the Minister of Finance warned Monday that the country was entering its worst recession since 1945 – but internment also deprives students of their education.
Castex, father of four, knows he can’t keep people at home forever. But managing the exit will require all of his political expertise. He has only a few weeks to prove that he was indeed the best man in the business.