France tightens coronavirus restrictions as deaths rise by 186 in 24 hours

France tightens coronavirus restrictions as deaths rise by 186 in 24 hours
A picture taken on March 23, 2020 shows a panel reading : " alert coronavirus " at " Place de la Comedie " in the city of Montpellier , southern France,. AFP
France tightened lockdown rules on physical exercise and open-air markets on Monday as the number of deaths linked to coronavirus rose to 860 after another 186 fatalities were recorded in 24 hours.

France is to tighten its lockdown imposed to battle the coronavirus, strictly limiting physical exercise and closing most open-air markets, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Monday.

Philippe told TF1 TV in a live interview that he would later sign a decree banning from Tuesday physical exercise such as jogging more than one kilometre (0.6 miles) from a person's place of residence and also halting open-air markets, although local authorities could request exemptions in exceptional cases.

“Many of our fellow citizens would like things to be like they were before, in normal times. But it is not going to happen tomorrow,” he said, warning that the lockdown could still last “several more weeks”.

France has been in lockdown for almost a week, with only essential trips outside allowed, in a bid to halt the acceleration of the virus' spread.

But government officials have been concerned by images of busy markets especially in Paris packed with shoppers and joggers pounding down some streets in certain areas, as if life was carrying on as normal.

President Emmanuel Macron is said to favour toughening up the existing rules rather than creating new harsher ones, such as a curfew or even a ban on stepping outside.

“Going out to take the children for a walk or for physical exercise must be within a distance of one kilometre maximum of your home, for one hour, and obviously alone, once a day,” said Philippe.

Death toll rises

The number of deaths linked to coronavirus in France rose to 860 after another 186 fatalities were recorded in 24 hours.

As of Monday there were some 8,675 patients being treated in hospital for coronavirus. Among them some 2,000 are in a serious condition, around 300 more than on Sunday.

Giving a daily briefing on Monday night France's Health Minister Oliver Véran said: “We must not forget that this epidemic hits the most fragile first and foremost.”

Véran said that 19,856 people had been registered as testing positive for the virus in France some 3,176 more than on Sunday but health chiefs have frequently warned that the real figure is likely far higher due to the face not everyone with symptoms is being tested.

“We all hope this confinement will have a strong, visible impact soon on the coronavirus. We all know that this confinement is essential,” Veran said.

“It is a difficult situation. But we are not losing hope,” he added.

Meanwhile, local authorities said 20 people had died in a single old people's home in the Vosges region of eastern France — one of the areas worst hit in the country — possibly due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

A total of five doctors have now died in France after contracting the coronavirus, as concern grows over the welfare of medical practitioners on the frontline.

“We will never forget them,” said Véran.

Health experts warn that many French hospitals are already overflowing with coronavirus cases even as the government races to set up military field hospitals to help cope with a shortage of beds.

Mulhouse has imposed its own nighttime curfew in addition to nationwide home-confinement rules seeking to curtail the virus, which has spread rapidly in France's eastern regions.

France is also experiencing a shortfall of ventilators to care for seriously ill patients and face masks and other protective equipment for health workers.

“This week, 20 million masks will be delivered to hospitals and Ephads in France,” Véran said, adding

“I also want to mention our elderly tonight.”

“I encourage everyone to use their imagination to come up with initiatives to help the most vulnerable among us.”

“Many villages have already made lists to map out their most vulnerable, and I applaud them for that,” said the minister.

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