Estimating the burden of SARS-CoV-2 in France

Henrik Salje, Cécile Tran Kiem, Noémie Lefrancq, Noémie Courtejoie, Paolo Bosetti, Juliette Paireau, Alessio Andronico, Nathanaël Hozé, Jehanne Richet, Claire-Lise Dubost, Yann Le Strat, Justin Lessler, Daniel Levy-Bruhl, Arnaud Fontanet, Lulla Opatowski, Pierre-Yves Boelle, Simon Cauchemez

Published Online 13 May 2020


France has been heavily affected by the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic and went into lockdown on the 17 March 2020. Using models applied to hospital and death data, we estimate the impact of the lockdown and current population immunity. We find 3.6% of infected individuals are hospitalized and 0.7% die, ranging from 0.001% in those <20 years of age (ya) to 10.1% in those >80ya. Across all ages, men are more likely to be hospitalized, enter intensive care, and die than women. The lockdown reduced the reproductive number from 2.90 to 0.67 (77% reduction). By 11 May 2020, when interventions are scheduled to be eased, we project 2.8 million (range: 1.8–4.7) people, or 4.4% (range: 2.8–7.2) of the population, will have been infected. Population immunity appears insufficient to avoid a second wave if all control measures are released at the end of the lockdown.

As of 7 May 2020, there were 95,210 incident hospitalizations due to SARS-CoV-2 reported in France and 16,386 deaths in hospitals, with the east of the country and the capital, Paris, particularly affected (Fig. 1, A and B). The mean age of hospitalized patients was 68ya and the mean age of the deceased was 79ya with 50.0% of hospitalizations occurring in individuals >70ya and 81.6% of deaths within that age bracket; 56.2% of hospitalizations and 60.3% of deaths were male (Fig. 1, C to E). To reconstruct the dynamics of all infections, including mild ones, we jointly analyze French hospital data with the results of a detailed outbreak investigation aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship where all passengers were subsequently tested (719 infections, 14 deaths currently). By coupling the passive surveillance data from French hospitals with the active surveillance performed aboard the Diamond Princess, we disentangle the risk of being hospitalized in those infected from the underlying probability of infection.

We identify two clear subpopulations in those cases that are hospitalized: individuals that die quickly upon hospital admission (15% of fatal cases, mean time to death of 0.67 days) and individuals who die after longer time periods (85% of fatal cases, mean time to death of 13.2 days). The proportion of fatal cases who die rapidly remains approximately constant across age-groups. Potential explanations for different subgroups of fatal cases include heterogeneous patterns of healthcare seeking, access to care, underlying comorbidities, such as metabolic disease and other inflammatory conditions. A role for immunopathogenesis has also been proposed.

Our results therefore strongly suggest that, without a vaccine, herd immunity on its own will be insufficient to avoid a second wave at the end of the lockdown. Efficient control measures need to be maintained beyond the 11 May.


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