AMIENS, France (AP) – As France battles a new outbreak of the virus that many believe was preventable, intensive care nurse Stephanie Sannier deals with her stress and grief by getting into her car after a shift of 12 hour work, playing music and singing as loud as her. can.
“It allows me to breathe,” she said, “and to cry.”
People with COVID-19 occupy all the beds in his intensive care unit in the hospital in President Emmanuel Macron’s hometown in the medieval town of Amiens in the north of the country. Three have died in the past three days. The vast medical complex diverts seriously ill patients from neighboring small towns for lack of space.
Yet even though France is now Europe’s last viral danger zone, Macron has resisted calls for dramatic action. He decided on Wednesday to stick largely to his strategy, a “third way” between freedom and lockdown intended to keep infections and a restless population under control until mass vaccinations take hold.
The government refuses to acknowledge the failure and blames delayed vaccine deliveries and a disobedient public for the spike in infections and the saturation of hospitals. Macron’s critics accuse arrogance at the highest level. They say French leaders ignored the warning signs and preferred political and economic calculations to public health – and life.
“We feel this wave coming very strongly,” said Romain Beal, blood oxygen specialist at Amiens hospital. “We have had families where the mother and her son died at the same time in two different intensive care rooms here. It’s unbearable. “
Doctors at the hospital watched as the variant ravaging Britain skip the English Channel and make its way into southern France. Much like in Britain, the variant is now taking increasingly younger and healthier patients to French emergency rooms and ICUs. Doctors in Amiens have done their best to prepare, providing reinforcements and setting up a temporary intensive care unit in a pediatric wing.
After Britain’s death toll rose in January, after new variants criticized European countries from the Czech Republic to Portugal, France continued to tout its ‘third way’.
Projections by French scientists – including the government advisory body on viruses – predicted problems ahead. Charts from the national research institute Inserm in January and again in February predict an increase in hospitalization rates for the virus in March or April. Concerned doctors have called for preventative measures beyond those already in place – a nationwide 6 p.m. curfew and the closure of all restaurants and many businesses.
Week after week, the government refused to impose a new lockdown, citing the stability of infection and hospitalization rates in France and hoping they would remain so. Ministers stressed the importance of keeping the economy afloat and protecting the mental health of a population exhausted by a year of uncertainty. A relieved audience gave Macron a boost in the polls.
But the virus was not over. The nationwide infection rate has now doubled in the past three weeks, and Paris hospitals are bracing for what could be their worst battle yet, with overcrowding in intensive care units set to exceed what s ‘happened when the pandemic first crashed in Europe.
Acknowledging the challenges, Macron on Wednesday announced a three-week nationwide school closure, a one-month travel ban inside the country and the creation of thousands of temporary intensive care beds. He also promised personal reinforcements.
While other European countries have imposed their third lockdown in recent months, Macron said that by refusing to do so in France, “we have gained precious days of freedom and weeks of schooling for our children, and we have allowed hundreds of thousands of workers to keep the lead. above water. “
At the same time, France has lost 30,000 more lives to the virus this year. It has also reported more viral infections overall than any country in Europe, and it has one of the highest death rates in the world – 95,640 lives lost.
Macron’s refusal to order a lockdown has frustrated people like Sarah Amhah, visiting her 67-year-old mother at the Amiens ICU.
“They mismanaged this from the start,” she said, recalling the government’s missteps a year ago around masks and testing and denouncing the logistical challenges of getting a vaccine. for elderly parents. Although she is still proud of France’s world-renowned healthcare system, she is ashamed of her government. “How can we trust them?”
Pollsters note growing public frustration in recent days over the government’s reluctance to crack down and the potential impact of Macron’s current decisions on the landscape of next year’s presidential campaign.
Macron last week defended his decision not to confine the country on January 29, when epidemiologists say it could have been a turning point in France’s battle to prevent outbreak # 3. no mea culpa on my part. I have no remorse and I will not recognize my failure, ”he said.
Instead of emulating European neighbors whose strategies are reducing infections – like Britain, which is now starting to open up after a three-month firm lockdown – French government officials are avoiding questions about the growing death toll by comparing their country to places where the situation is even worse.
At the ICU in Amiens, things are already bad enough.
“It feels like the people are doing the opposite of what they should be doing,” said Nurse Sannier, before touring. “And we feel like we’re working for nothing.”
Intern Osama Nanai acknowledged that the drumbeat of the grim virus numbers has left many numb, and urged everyone to go to an intensive care unit to put a human face on the numbers.
“There are ups and downs every day… Yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t take it anymore. The patient in (room) 52 died and the patient in (room) 54, ”he said.
But sometimes their work pays off. “Two people who were in the most serious condition for 60 days left on their own and sent us photos,” he said. “It lifts our spirits and makes us realize that what we are doing is useful.”
Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed.