French professor remains defiant on hydroxychloroquine despite new study

Controversial French medical professor Didier Raoult said he stood by his belief that hydroxychloroquine can help patients recover from the coronavirus, rejecting a study that indicated there was no benefit from taking the drugs.

French professor remains defiant on hydroxychloroquine despite new study
Didier Raoult. Photo: AFP

“How can one messy study done with 'big data' change what we see?”, microbiologist Raoult asked in a video posted on the website of his infectious diseases hospital in Marseille.

For long recognised scientist, Raoult earned worldwide fame during the coronavirus crisis for his controversial beliefs, even visited by President Emmanuel Macron in person as the head of state sounded out experts to find a cure to Covid-19.

Raoult has consistently argued that the anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have a tangible benefit, a stance that has been loudly backed by President Donald Trump who has said he has even been taking hydroxychloroquine as a precaution.

But a new study looking at the records of 96,000 patients across hundreds of hospitals, published in The Lancet, found that administering the drugs actually increased the patients' risk of dying.

This was just the latest in a series of studies that have cast doubt over the efficiency of the drugs in curing the coronavirus

But the professor, touted by supporters as a lone truth-teller fighting against an ivory tower of elitist scientist, said the new findings would not change his stance.

“Here we have had 4,000 people go through our hospital, you don't think I'm going to change because there are people who do 'big data', which is a kind of completely delusional fantasy,” he said.

“Nothing will change what I have seen with my own eyes.”

The French medical professor has gained worldwide fame since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: AFP

His comments came as the World Health Organization said it was suspending trial of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment over safety concerns.

Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat arthritis while chloroquine is an anti-malarial. Both drugs can produce potentially serious side effects, particularly heart arrhythmia. 

EXPLAINED: What is chloroquine and why do some French scientists back it as a coronavirus cure?

Raoult, a distinctive figure with his shoulder-length shaggy grey hair, ended the video by repeating another controversial claim that “this is the end of the epidemic”.

Macron met Raoult at his hospital in April as the president canvassed opinion about the next policy steps to make in the fight against the coronavirus.

The Elysee insisted at the time that the visit did not represent any kind of “recognition” of the professor's methods.

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France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body has outlined how Covid-19 rules will change on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules will relax in France as the country ends compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes will take effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 will return to normal on February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 will have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that will begin in February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.