Left Menu
Development News Edition

"We're digging the trenches": France's intensive care medics brace for coronavirus war

Reuters | Updated: 27-03-2020 01:02 IST | Created: 27-03-2020 01:02 IST
"We're digging the trenches": France's intensive care medics brace for coronavirus war

Intensive care nurse Emmanuelle Dubourg Davy feels that war has been declared and knows that her hospital in the western French city of Angers will soon be inundated with critically ill coronavirus patients. The teaching hospital has stockpiled surgical blouses, face masks and disinfectant gels, and rotas have been rewritten to increase working hours. So far, only three of 24 intensive care beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, but few among her colleagues doubt that a wave will hit.

"We're on a war footing, as if we were digging trenches," she said. Across Europe, the pandemic is putting public healthcare systems under unprecedented strain, bringing Italy's hospital network to its knees and stretching Spain's to breaking point.

As infections spiral higher and fatalities surge, France is next in line, and Britain seems only a few days behind. France now has nearly 20,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and the death toll stands at around 860. Two in every five of the country's 5,000 intensive car beds are already occupied by coronavirus patients.

In eastern France, around Strasbourg and Mulhouse, home to the country's second biggest outbreak after the Paris region, intensive care units (ICUs) are already overwhelmed. The army is setting up a field hospital and transferring patients to other cities. One 24-year-old nurse in the region said it felt like being in a never-ending tunnel, with no spare beds for patients and a desperate shortage of masks and equipment.

"It's like death is around the corner," said Sandrine, who withheld her surname as she is not authorised to talk publicly. Like other countries around the world, France has imposed an unprecedented lockdown to get people off the streets and to slow the virus' spread, hoping to win time for medics.

HEROES CRACKING UP Hospitals with limited intensive care facilities are re-tooling recovery or emergency rooms by installing ventilators sometimes stripped from operating theatres. Larger hospitals are scrambling to order new machines.

All but essential operations are being cancelled to free up personnel and beds. "We've reorganised everything to create something that will hold up, but every two days, we're told we need 10 more beds here, 10 more beds there," said Anne Geffroy-Wernet, an anaesthetist-intensive care doctor at Perpignan's main hospital.

"We're now a region that is becoming endemic and we're trying to build ICU beds in parts of the hospital where there weren't any, under difficult circumstances." If creating ICU beds is difficult, adding personnel is harder, doctors said. In each intensive care unit, there should be one doctor for every six patients, two nurses for every five and one caregiver for every four.

Those ratios will not be sustainable as the number of patients keeps rising, so hospitals are recruiting staff from other departments, such as paediatrics, as well as student medics to bolster intensive care wards. Geffroy-Wernet, a union leader, said as many as 40% of frontline health workers could fall sick. Five hospital staff have already died in France.

"We know we're going to hit a wall, we just hope that the airbag that we're trying to prepare will allow us to limit the damage," said Jerome Larche, a trainee intensive care doctor at a private clinic in Montpellier, after an 18-hour shift. French law says doctors can be on duty for up to 24 hours consecutively, followed by 24 hours rest. Nobody expects to keep those hours.

"Sometimes it's a question of life or death, so you won't go home," said another ICU doctor in southeastern France. "The consequence is that people start thinking they're heroes. But they're not, so they are going to start cracking up mentally." (Additional reporting by Tangi Salaun in Paris; editing by Richard Lough and Gareth Jones)



Uganda COVID-19 response: Was off to a good start but reopening dwindled prospects

Uganda has shown success in using health information to enhance efficiency of disease surveillance, reporting and monitoring. The success, however, has critical challenges confronting it as the country resumes normal activities....

New farm bills in India: Focusing on farms or farmers?

... ...

Kenya’s COVID-19 response: Chaos amid lack of information

Confusing numbers and scanty information on how effective curfews and lockdowns have been in breaking transmission have amplified coordination and planning challenges in Kenyas response to COVID-19. Without accurate data, it is impossible t...

Farkhad Akhmedov: Calculating the price of impunity from the law

In insistences such as the battle over the Luna, Akhmedov has resorted to extreme legal machinations to subvert the High Courts decision and keep his assets from being seized. ...


Latest News

Kistner's election delay bid rejected at Supreme Court

A Minnesota Republican candidates bid to delay voting in his congressional race to February due to the death of a third-party candidate was rejected Tuesday at the Supreme Court. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who handles emergency requests from the...

Daniel Menaker, award-winning author and editor, dead at 79

Daniel Menaker, an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction and a longtime editor at The New Yorker and Random House who worked with Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie, Colum McCann and many others, has died at age 79. Menakers son, podcaste...

Govt welcomes decision to approve new water storage reservoir in Northland

The Government has welcomed the decision to approve a new water storage reservoir in Northland, the first of a number of infrastructure projects earmarked for a speedy consenting process that aims to accelerate New Zealands economic recover...

Brazil Navy chief says personnel ready despite COVID-19, submarines face technical setback

The readiness of the Brazilian Navy has not been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, despite 8 of personnel catching the virus and 549 people dying of COVID-19, its commander said on Tuesday.Admiral Ilques Barbosa played down the impact o...

Give Feedback