"The reopening of social activities is of major importance" but "the coming weeks remain uncertain and at risk of an epidemic resumption.
This is how the Scientific Council describes the current situation in France, while the next stage of deconfinement, on May 19, is expected by millions of French people.
Terraces and cultural places should then reopen throughout the country, for the first time since the end of October, with respect for barrier gestures and a health protocol.
But beware of proclaiming victory too quickly, essentially alerting the Scientific Council in its new opinion delivered to the government on Thursday evening.
The Covid-19 epidemic may have been in sharp decline across the country for two weeks, this "does not imply that it is over as summer approaches".
"In the event of a fourth wave, the exhaustion of health personnel will no longer offer the same support capacities, in critical care in particular", warn these experts, while presenting many solutions to avoid it.
Here are the main ones.
Opt for a "low plateau" of contamination
Without saying so explicitly, the Scientific Council rejects the threshold set by Emmanuel Macron to condition reopening, i.e. an incidence rate of less than 400. This is eight times the alert threshold set last summer (50), and 60% more than that of “maximum alert”, implemented last fall (250).
“The option of a low plateau is clearly preferable to that of a high plateau”, describe the experts, recalling that several of our main neighbors, such as Germany, have opted for an incidence rate of 100.
Read alsoA threshold of the incidence rate at 400 for deconfinement?
"Unacceptable", say epidemiologists
A low plateau, ie an incidence of less than 50, "would make it possible to achieve a sufficient level of vaccination coverage (35 million first-time vaccinated on June 30, 2021) to calmly consider the relaxation of restriction measures, and to approach the summer period in the best conditions ”, indicates the Scientific Council.
Last November, Emmanuel Macron set the level for deconfining in mid-December at 5,000 cases per day (corresponding to an incidence of 50).
But that has disappeared from the speeches since over the weeks.
Speed up vaccination
As a corollary, to reach these 35 million first-time vaccinated at the end of June, it would be necessary to go from 400,000 to 500,000 vaccinations per day, "including during the spring weekend periods (Ascension and Pentecost)".
This will allow "to increase the proportion of people protected [to] accompany the opening measures", indicates the Scientific Council.
Other hoped-for effects: "help keep viral circulation low" and "reduce the risk" that variants escaping vaccine efficacy will emerge in the meantime.
Covid-19: How Pfizer won the vaccine race
The government is counting on 20 million first-time vaccinated on May 15 and 30 million on June 15.
But the disenchantment that strikes AstraZeneca and the holidays, during which few vaccinations are carried out, could complicate the task.
The Scientific Council calls for a "very wide use" of self-tests, which can now be bought in pharmacies and carried out oneself.
And to mention, for example, a deployment in a company and during family reunification.
They could make it possible, provided "that their use is explained", to "quickly detect an asymptomatic contagious person as part of a Test, Trace, Isolate policy".
Antigenic or saliva tests should also be deployed even more massively in airports in order to be offered to travelers coming from abroad, while "putting in place a very strict procedure" for those returning from a country where a worrying variant is circulating a lot.
The Scientific Council also mentions, among the “innovative” avenues, using the dog's sense of smell for screening.
Studies must be carried out "in real life" to establish the conditions under which such a device could be deployed.
Eventually, the possibility of calling on man's best friend “as an early pre-scout” in airports, universities, or even businesses is discussed.
In Corsica, dogs detect the smell of Covid-19 in sweat
It is one thing to know how to limit the risks of a new epidemic wave, another is to manage to see it arrive as soon as possible.
It is within this framework that the Scientific Council recommends the monitoring of wastewater, "which proves to be an excellent sentinel of an epidemic recovery when the level of circulation is low".
The “Sentinel” network, in fact, scans every week for the presence of traces of viruses in the sewers.
From the beginning of last summer, the curves had started to go up locally.
"In Île-de-France, we detected the return of the virus from the month of June, well before the other indicators light up", explained to us in November Vincent Maréchal, virologist at Sorbonne University Vincent Maréchal and the one of the project leaders.
“Our fellow citizens must be aware of the issues raised by the reopening.
Their individual adherence to protective measures during this period of reopening is fundamental to moving towards a more peaceful start to the summer, ”believes the Scientific Council, which pleads for a region-by-region approach.
Read also Reopenings in mid-May: warnings from the Institut Pasteur
In the event of a signal of a resumption of the epidemic at the local level, "we should not underestimate the difficulty that the authorities would have to close the openings if it were necessary", he also warns.
Because the French feel "a great weariness and anxiety", and the hope of a return to a normal life could be badly accepted.