PARIS (Reuters) – France became the fourth country to pass the 4,000 coronavirus deaths threshold on Wednesday, after Italy, Spain and the United States, as the government scrambles to stay ahead of the curve regarding ventilator-equipped beds that are quickly filling up.
French health authorities reported 509 new deaths from the disease, taking the total to 4,032. But, after speeding up the previous two days, the rate of increase of deaths has decelerated in France, which is now in its third week of lockdown to try to slow the spread of the virus.
Speaking by videoconference in front of a parliament committee created to hold the government accountable for the way it handles the crisis, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the lockdown would likely be unwound gradually rather than in one go.
The government has ordered people to stay in their homes except for essential travel from March 17 until at least April 15.
“It is likely that we are not heading towards a general de-confinement in one go and for everyone,” Philippe said without indicating when the government might start to ease or completely lift the lockdown.
The daily government tally still only accounts for those dying in hospitals but authorities say they will very soon be able to compile data on deaths in retirement homes, which is likely to result in a big increase in registered fatalities.
State health agency director Jerome Salomon told a news conference that the number of cases had risen to 56,989, a rise of 9%, versus an increase of 17% Tuesday.
Salomon said 6,017 people were in a serious condition needing life support, up 8% compared with Tuesday.
France has increased the number of beds in intensive care units from 5,000 to about 10,000 since the start of the crisis and it is aiming to reach 14,500 as soon as possible.
“We are coping with a highly exceptional pandemic, that has an unprecedented impact on our health system. A deadly pandemic, with a very contagious virus”, Salomon said.
With 13,155 deaths to date, Italy accounts for almost 30% of the global death tally. Spain has 9,053 deaths and, just like France, the United States has just passed the 4,000-mark.
The four countries now account for about two-thirds of the total deaths – now at more than 45,000 – from the coronavirus around the world.
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Elizabeth Pineau and Jean-Stephane Brosse; Editing by Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis)