Overstretched hospitals in Alsace, the hardest-hit region by far, have had to send out patients by military planes to less affected regions, and even in a “medicalized” train. A conference of 2,000 evangelical Christians at Mulhouse in February, where an unknown but significant number of those there were infected, has had the effect of a coronavirus bomb, first on Alsace, and then on all of France, as the participants spread throughout the country.
“We’re at the limit of our capacities,” Jean Sibilia, dean of the medical faculty at Strasbourg University, said. “As long as we’re doubling cases every four days, you can just imagine the load,” he said.
Hospitals in Alsace are so full the French Army has had to scramble to set up a field hospital.
“What we’re living through here is completely exceptional,” said Jean-François Cerfon, an emergency room doctor in the eastern town of Colmar. “A massive influx of patients, over a short period, and they’re in for the long haul. Let’s just hope that by July we’re out of this nightmare.”
Now, amid the same bitter debates taking place in other countries — opposition politicians are asking whether officials were prepared, why stocks of masks were not higher, and whether Mr. Macron moved fast enough — the government is holding its breath about whether the robust French system can hold. The debates have been muted though, because public anxiety has so far outweighed the country’s strong attachment to individual liberties.
There are no guarantees. “No system can hold indefinitely,” said Philippe Juvin, head of the emergency room at Hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou in Paris. ‘‘There’s always a moment when the wave is too big,” he said.
“It’s going to be a test of organization, and a human test,” he added, noting that the wave of patients arriving at hospitals in critical condition was growing. “Will we have the capacity to hold up?”
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