During his brief speech to the nation on Friday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the government had decided that the period of obligatory self-isolation for suspected or positive Covid-19 cases would be reduced from 14 days to seven.
“On the proposal of the Scientific Council, the duration of isolation will be reduced to seven days, that is to say the period during which there is a real risk of contagion,” Castex said, referring to the council set up to advise the government on its coronavirus strategy.
The prime minister had himself just completed one week of quarantine, forced upon him after he shared a car with Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme who then tested positive for the virus.
1. Why are they shortening the period?
The government have said they worry that keeping the period so long is counterproductive and that their goal is to ensure a better general compliance with the rules to limit risk of spread.
Figures – not just for France but other countries too – show that many people do not observe 14 days of quarantine so the thinking is that a smaller time period covering the days when the person is most at risk of spreading the disease would be more effective.
It's worth noting that even if the official line has been 14 days of self-isolation, there has been no formal mechanism in place to ensure that people actually comply with the rules.
2. Why seven days?
French authorities say 14 days of self-isolating is unnecessarily long because few people remain contagious after one week of symptoms.
“We are most contagious in the first five days either after the first symptoms or after testing positive. After that, the level of contagiousness decreases significantly,” French Health Minister Olivier Véran told France Inter.
3. What do the experts say?
Several epidemiologists (those who observe the development of the epidemic curve) and infectious disease specialists (those specialised in the development of the virus itself) have spoken out in support of shortening the quarantine.
“We know that we are contagious 48 hours before the appearance of symptoms and up to 10 days after”, infectious disease specialist Anne-Claude Crémieux told France Info.
Her colleague and fellow infectious disease specialist Benjamin Davido told France 2 that “there is no reason to prolong the period of isolation above these seven days.”
Antoine Flahault, professor of public health and Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, which follows the development of Covid-19 closely, tweeted:
“We need to be pragmatic and efficient.”
Il faut désormais être pragmatiques et efficaces : les quarantaines, dans les faits quatorzaines, doivent maintenant devenir des semaines de 5 jours. Au delà de 5 jours moins de 10% des porteurs de virus non symptomatiques sont contagieux.
— Antoine FLAHAULT (@FLAHAULT) September 4, 2020
Flahault recommended that the government reduce the quarantine period to five kdays, seeing as less than 10 percent of asymptomatic cases of the virus remained contagious after that point.
4. What does it change in practice?
- Test positive for Covid-19;
- Have Covid-19 symptoms and are waiting to get tested;
- Have been identified as a contact case and are waiting to get tested
- If you have tested negative but have been identified as a risk-contact
- If you have tested negative but live in the same house as a positive case
The general line in France is that anyone who could be at risk of having the virus, either if they have symptoms or if they have been in touch with someone who tests positive, should get tested.
The government might adapt their advice in the coming days or weeks as the prime minister also said vulnerable groups will get priority in the line, following several complaints of long waiting lines and delays in getting the test results.
But for now the official advice is that everyone suspecting they could have the virus should get tested.
If you have any questions about the process you can call the national Covid-19 help line on 0800 130 000 (free of charge).