The epidemiologist Martin Blachier argues that if the wave is to be stopped, tougher measures must be adopted
Since autumn arrived, the French Martin Blachier, 35, has been forced to review all the mathematical models that, as an epidemiologist and member of a medical consultancy, Public Health Expertise, he uses to analyze the evolution of the coronavirus. Nothing is certain, he says in Paris, except that the virus has exploded throughout Europe, that there is a “seasonal” factor that had not been counted before and that new, and tougher, measures are required to stop the new wave .
Question. How did we get to this new wave?
Answer. We did not foresee what is happening now. Our mathematical models did not take into account the seasonality of the virus, we did not believe in it since there were epidemic waves in summer. We thought that the virus would reach a kind of plateau with the measures adopted, the masks, the bars closed. And suddenly, the virus breaks out, all over Europe, even in areas where it was not, and is five or six times stronger than two weeks ago. We have reviewed all the factors and this fits with the temperature curve: they fell sharply at the end of September and, two-three days later, the virus was rebounding. We cannot explain what is happening without a drastic factor of seasonality at the moment when temperatures change.
P. Is it because the virus is more virulent in the cold or because we live more indoors?
R. We do not know anything. What we see are the curves, and we make hypotheses. One is, indeed, the way of life, with people locked up, windows closed. That said, there are signs that the virus is stronger in cold weather: (outbreaks) in slaughterhouses, at hockey games, studies on aerosols that would be more important in cold environments … And immune defenses are less strong in winter. There are a multitude of hypotheses that go in the same direction.
P. Is this second wave more uniform in Europe?
R. We observed a complete homogenization throughout the European territory since October 1. Before, we had different situations because small changes in behavior could have an impact on contamination. Now, everyone is the same. Everywhere it is said to be a catastrophe, each for different reasons. Spaniards have the impression of never having been unconfined. Italians suffer from post-traumatic syndrome, have known hell and hoped to get rid of the second wave by their behavior. Belgium is the worst country in Europe. Half of the UK is confined. Ireland is confined. And Germany begins to think that in two weeks they will be worse than in France. No country feels safe.
P. Have we learned from other countries?
R. The idea of controlling the epidemic with the barrier measures that we know is an illusion. This winter, we’re not going to get out of this with just masks, social distancing, and Plexiglas sheets. There are economic considerations and decisions as a society, more than the little measures of summer. The question will be to see how it is confined, with each part of society, what we maintain, what we adapt. And tough decisions will have to be made, because it will be necessary to address the population aged 60-80 years, (…) what really impacts mortality and the overflow of hospitals is what you do with that population. That means drastically limiting social interactions; They can go out, walk, do many things, but social interactions must be short and in extremely safe conditions. I would make a plan for the elderly population until the end of winter.
P. In France it is said that confining only the elderly is very delicate. And politically complicated, it is a population that votes a lot.
R. Absolutely. Everyone, including government advisers, agrees that it is a measure that would work economically and healthily. But politically, it is very complicated. As long as that population does not accept the principle, those decisions would be political suicide.
P. Should schools close?