The lockdown imposed last week in France to battle the coronavirus should last at least six weeks in total, a committee of scientific experts advising the government on the outbreak said on Tuesday.
The warning on the potential length of the lockdown came as the coronavirus killed another 240 people in France, bringing the death toll in the country from the pandemic to 1,100.
“The confinement will likely last at least six weeks from the moment it was put in place (on March 17),” said the scientific council, adding it was “indispensable” to extend the measure from its initial duration of two weeks.
The council of doctors and sociologists was created by the health ministry to advise President Emmanuel Macron and the government on the best way to combat the coronavirus.
The lockdown, already in place for a week nationwide, orders all in France to stay inside except for essential trips outside such as shopping.
Speaking after talks with the experts at the Elysee Palace, Health Minister Olivier Veran said that the figure of six weeks was an “estimation” and no one knew at this stage how long the confinement would last.
“They said that we need to be prepared that the confinement will last more than two weeks and that maybe it could be even more like five or six weeks,” he said.
“It (the lockdown) will last as long as it needs to,” he added.
The experts said that the lockdown was currently the “sole strategy that is realistic in operational terms,” adding that other strategies like mass testing or isolating all those who may have the virus were not realizable on a national scale.
It said three weeks of lockdown would be needed before an estimation of its impact can be made.
Top French health official Jerome Salomon told reporters that 22,300 people had been registered as testing positive for the virus in France, with a total of 10,176 hospitalized of whom 2,516 people are in intensive care.
Officials believe that the published number of those infected largely underestimates the real figure, as only those showing severe symptoms are usually tested.
Salomon also emphasized that the death toll of 1,100 includes only those recorded to have died of the coronavirus in hospitals and not those who die in old people’s homes.
He said that the hospital deaths were only a part of the total toll and vowed to give data on mortality in old people’s homes in the next few days.