‘I am worried’ French coronavirus advisor issues dire alert as outbreak erupts

“I’m worried about the coronavirus,” top French virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said on Tuesday, as she exhorted citizens to show “discipline” and follow the government’s advice to stay at home to help stop the spread of the deadly infection.

“I’m worried – like everyone else – about this epidemic,” Ms Barré-Sinoussi, a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s coronavirus task force, told French newspaper Le Monde.

“For me, the urgency lies in stopping the outbreak. We must strictly comply with the confinement measures. I call for all to stay at home! The population’s lack of discipline is a concern,” the Nobel prize winner and co-discoverer of the AIDS virus added.

Ms Barré-Sinoussi also commented on the controversial use of the anti-malarial drug chloroquine to treat Covid-19, the highly-contagious respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

“The efficacy of chloroquine (to treat severe forms of the disease) has not yet been proven… Let us be patient,” she said, as she urged doctors advocating its mass use without formal trials to be reasonable and wait for “serious” results.

“Chloroquine is not Doliprane (paracetamol). It could have a deleterious effect on patients and increase the risk of cardiotoxicity,” she warned.

There have been reports from France and China that chloroquine has helped some coronavirus patients recover, but there has been no large-scale clinical test in which, ideally, thousands of patients are treated with the drug and their outcomes compared with those who did not receive it.

The cheap anti-malarial has demonstrated toxicity in certain patients, prompting calls for it to be used with caution. It has, however, been touted as a miracle cure by some doctors.

There are currently no vaccines or treatments for the respiratory illness, so patients can only receive support care or experimental treatment for now.

Ms Barré-Sinoussi’s comments were published shortly before the scientific council – set up by the health ministry to advise the Macron government on the best way to combat the outbreak – said it was “indispensable” to extend the lockdown imposed last week to restrict the virus’ spread.

“The confinement will likely last at least six weeks from the moment it was put in place (on March 17),” the experts said in a statement.

The strict lockdown orders all in France to stay home except to buy food, medicine, go to work or to the hospital, or for brief exercise.

The warning on the potential extension of the lockdown came as the flu-like illness killed another 240 people in France, bringing the death toll in the country from the pandemic to 1,100.

The country’s top health official Jerome Salomon told reporters that 22,300 people had been registered as testing positive for the virus in France, with a total of 10,176 hospitalised of whom 2,516 are in intensive care.

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