Lectures by Professors from the Collège de France available online: « Covid-19 or the chronicle of an announced emergence » by French microbiologist Philippe Sansonetti
The France-Singapore Science and Innovation Lecture Series is an initiative that follows the successful France-Singapore Year of Innovation that concluded in March 2019, where the two countries vowed closer collaborations in key areas such as artificial intelligence, health, space and circular economy.
The lecture series, held in partnership between the Embassy of France in Singapore, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Collège de France, and with the support of the PSL University, has seen an impressive line–up of prominent French scientists and researchers share their expertise.
Prof Philippe Sansonetti, Chair of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the Collège de France, gave the inaugural lecture of the series on 29 October 2019, as part of the Voilah! France Singapore Festival 2019, on « Microbes without Borders: Agenda for the 21st Century » at the National University of Singapore. rof Alain Fischer, Professor of pediatric immunology and Chair of Experimental Medicine at the Collège de France and Medical Director of the Institut Pasteur from 1995 to 2000, gave his talk on 16 January 2020 at the Duke-NUS Medical School.
« Covid-19 is a plague, and it is vital that our society realises this as a matter of urgency. It is not too late, but we are running out of time ». These are the ominous words from Prof Philippe Sansonetti that sound the warning bell about the unprecedented dire situation confronting the world’s governments and population, the likes of which modern history has never seen.
A leading microbiologist in Europe, Prof Philippe Sansonetti is renowned for his research on the pathogenesis of Shigella, a bacterium causing severe diarrhea. His work spans a large set of disciplines in biology and medicine and ranges from molecular genetics, to cell biology, immunology and the development of vaccines against dysentery.
Today, Professor Sansonetti weighs in on the scourge that is Covid-19 in a lecture entitled « Covid-19 or the chronicle of an announced emergence » at the Collège de France on 16 March 2020. https://booksandideas.net/Covid-19-Chronicle-of-an-Outbreak-Foretold.html
To date, more than 2,400,000 Coronavirus cases have been reported at the time of this writing (22 April 2020) with nearly 170,000 deaths. All this in less than the four months since the earliest cases emerged in Wuhan, China.
Governments have taken draconian measures and imposed lockdowns not only on cities but sometimes whole countries too. They have rolled out financial and fiscal policies to prop up failing economies. Supply chains are disrupted and industries have ground to a halt. Healthcare systems are under severe strain.
According to Prof Sansonetti, despite the outbreak of SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012, the world was not prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic (the third in the past 20 years) occurring in terms of treatment and vaccines. Now, in the absence of treatment and vaccines, the progression of this epidemic is in our hands.
Contrary to SARS, the virus is very highly contagious, with people transmitting it despite still being asymptomatic or starting to experience minor symptoms. They should, in actual fact, already be self-isolating as soon as possible. The attack rate (that is the number of newly infected individuals in relation to the total population) is much higher than that of the seasonal flu.
In severe cases, which account for around 10 to 15% of those affected, the average hospitalisation period is between 7 and 15 days, which poses a threat to our healthcare system. The mortality rate is relatively low and is expected to eventually stand at 1-2%. This mortality rate could, however, go up with the increasing strain on medical resources and the diminishing availability of intensive care beds.
The situation progressed rapidly from clusters to a worldwide pandemic showing that the disease has a high epidemic potential, and the problem now is no longer blocking borders or implementing any other archaic ideas; the borders now are right here at our doorstep. This is what has prompted the authorities to introduce a series of strategies for limiting the progression of the disease, and justifiably so.
However, the positive aspects of what is currently happening includes the unusual speed with which this pandemic was first detected in Wuhan. Diagnoses that even 10 or 20 years ago would have taken weeks or even months to make since the virus had to be isolated and identified were now being established using molecular methods in just a few days or even hours. This is due to the development of so-called new-generation deep sequencing and bioinformatics, allowing for the identification of this foreign RNA immediately in samples taken from infected individuals.
Producing a vaccine is essential, and will involve all parties, including the Institut Pasteur, Inserm etc., but the scientific development will need time since it takes between eight and 12 years for a standard vaccine. The ability to identify new vaccine targets has improved considerably over recent years and for Covid-19, there are candidate vaccines that are going to start entering the clinical trial phase and will be managed in a way that accelerates the process as much as possible, but still taking at least 12 months.
Professor Sansonetti concludes that in the meantime, it is up to each of us to take our fate into our own hands in terms of the way in which we understand this disease and the need for these isolation measures and stricter individual hygiene practices. It is not every day that one event has such a profound impact on our fate. Infectious diseases are certainly forming the basis of modern warfare and our lives are undoubtedly going to change as a result of this.
About the Collège de France
The Collège de France was founded in 1530 and is a public higher education and research establishment in France. Many renowned professors from a variety of disciplines are named to the various Chairs of the Collège who count numerous Nobel Prize laureates and Fields Medallists as affiliated members. Professors give free lectures in line with the Collège motto of Docet omnia, the latin meaning for “teaches all“ where “knowledge in the making in every field of literature, science and the arts” is imparted.