The death toll is 400+ worldwide and nearly 3,000 cases of contamination have been confirmed for this SARS-like coronavirus epidemic. In France, the health authorities assure us that they already have effective systems in place.
This weekend, travellers returning from China revealed to various media outlets how they had been cared for on their return to France. Many were surprised at the measures put in place to prevent the spread of the 2019-nCOV coronavirus, suggesting that controls were, on balance, quite weak. To get a clearer picture of the subject, we have taken stock of the measures put in place. Before looking into this, it should be recalled that to date, the death toll of this new disease, which is reminiscent of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), has reached 400 confirmed deaths in China alone, and nearly 3,000 people have been contaminated. Three of them are currently in quarantine in France, one in Bordeaux and two in Paris. All had returned from a stay in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic. Following the intervention of the World Health Organization last Thursday, the Chinese government has initiated a large number of procedures to limit the spread of the virus on its territory and internationally: emergency construction of hospitals to accommodate those infected, confinement of several municipalities, etc..
In France, the health authorities want to reassure people. Health Minister Agnès Buzin explained the reason for the absence of thermal cameras (used to identify people with fever and therefore potentially ill) at airports. According to her, such a diagnosis could be skewed by the current seasonal flu epidemic. “The most appropriate solution is to provide information to passengers, which we do, on paper, in three languages,” said the Minister. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also announced the implementation of a special repatriation to France for its nationals in China in the middle of the week.
In Paris, the Bichat Hospital and the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital each provide seven isolation rooms adapted for contaminated individuals. Since the first SARS outbreak in 2002-2003, their medical teams would already have been trained to deal with such a situation. The Bichat Hospital recently announced the implementation of a system of analysis directly on site, to speed up evaluations and possible biological examinations. Moreover, the Ministry of Health’s instructions are clear. A person with symptoms potentially related to the virus, returning from a trip to China, or who has seen people returning from China, should not go to the emergency room, where they could transmit the virus to others. She must call the SAMU via 15 in order to get in touch with a regulating doctor. If he or she feels there is a risk (high fever, severe respiratory distress and direct or indirect link to the town of Wuhan), a medical team will come and take that person directly to the hospital where he or she will be assessed. As a reminder, coronavirus 2019-nCoV is transmitted only by sputum or prolonged contact with an infected person.