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HEALTH

Which areas of France are the worst affected by coronavirus?

The death toll continues to climb and the whole country is on lockdown, but large numbers of cases are still concentrated in certain areas.

Which areas of France are the worst affected by coronavirus?
Photos: AFP

France's official number of confirmed cases of coronavirus stands at 22,302 on Wednesday, but officials admit that the real number of cases is much larger.

France is currently only testing a very narrow group of people – although health minister Olivier Véran said on Tuesday evening that much wider testing would be rolled out shortly.

READ ALSO Coronavirus testing in France – how does it work and who gets tested?

At present only healthcare workers, people with symptoms who are in high risk groups and people who have very severe symptoms are being tested.

This means that the real number of cases is much higher – as high as 90,000 according to one health official.

What authorities are concentrating on instead is the sickest patients, hoping this will help them manage healthcare systems without getting totally overwhelmed.

In this area there are three parts of France that are the worst affected – the eastern parts of the country, Corsica and Paris.

In each of these areas medical services are struggling to keep pace with the number of cases and local medics say they are at 'breaking point'.

The east

The eastern départements saw the first coronavirus clusters in France and remain the worst affected – with hospitals in both Mulhouse and Colmar in the Haut-Rhin département severely stretched.

Mulhouse was the centre of one of the earliest outbreaks – centred around a church in the town – and is now the site of an army hospital built to take the patients that the hospital cannot cope with.

Patients from both Mulhouse and Colmar have also been airlifted to hospitals in other parts of France that have greater capacity, while others have been transferred over the border to hospitals in Germany.

There is also a 'coronavirus train' that on Wednesday is taking seriously ill patients from the east to other regions.

Doctors in the Hauts-de-France region – which contains the département of Oise, another early cluster zone – are also preparing for difficult days ahead as they have a high number of patients in intensive care.

Many patients have been sent to Occitanie in south west France and Centre-Val-de-Loire, which have so far seen fewer serious cases than many other regions.

Of the five doctors who have died of the virus so far, four were working in Haut-Rhin, Oise or Moselle in the east.

IN PICTURES: France's military hospital for coronavirus patients 

Paris

The greater Paris Île-de-France region has the highest number of confirmed cases in France – 6,798 as of March 24th, although again the figures only relate to officially confirmed cases, usually the sickest patients.

In Paris the picture is further complicated by the fact that many patients are transferred from other areas to the specialist hospitals in the capital.

But despite having some of the best medical facilities in the country, services in the capital are still struggling.

Hospitals have put out a call for anyone with medical qualifications to come and help out – offering free train travel for the journey. So far 4,213 people have signed up – including school nurses, retired medical professionals, nurses working in private healthcare and part-time staff.

Doctors in the area say if cases continue to increase at the same rate, by Friday hospitals in the region will be at breaking point.

The major preoccupation of the regional health authority is finding new intensive care beds for coronavirus. Île-de-France currently has 1,200 intensive care beds and has set a target of 2,000 by the end of the week – using beds in private hospitals and other facilities to boost the numbers.

“We are increasing the capacity of both types of establishments, and we no longer think at all in terms of public or private,” said a spokesman from the Île-de-France health authority.

Corsica

The island of Corsica was another place that reported an early cluster, particularly around the capital Ajaccio. The virus then spread around the island, overwhelming local medical services.

Over the last few days the French Navy has organised transport on hospital ships for patients from Corsica to hospitals in mainland France, particularly nearby Marseille.

There are no regions of France that are coronavirus free and the lockdown restrictions apply to the whole country as the government desperately tries to slow the transmission of the illness.

On Tuesday alone 240 people died, taking the death toll above 1,000, and the Olivier Véran says the lockdown will have to be extended, possibly to five or six weeks.

READ ALSO These are the rules of lockdown in France

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TRAVEL NEWS

France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents

Injuries and even deaths while skiing in France have seen a sharp rise in recent years - leading the French government to create a new ski safety campaign.

France launches ski safety campaign after rising number of accidents

The early part of the ski season in France was dominated by headlines over the lack of snow in popular mountain resorts – but, now that climatic conditions have started to improve for skiers and there is at least some snow, the winter sports season is in gearing up to hit full swing.

READ ALSO Snow latest: Have France’s ski resorts reopened?

Heading into the winter holiday season – French schools in ‘Zone A’ break up for two weeks on February 4th, followed on February 11th by schools in ‘Zone B’, while schools in Zone C finish for the vacation on February 18th – the government has launched an awareness campaign highlighting skiing good practice and how to avoid accidents.

READ ALSO What can I do if I’ve booked a French skiing holiday and there’s no snow?

The Pratiquer l’hiver campaign has advice, posters and videos highlighting safety on the slopes, in an effort to reduce the number of accidents on France’s mountains – where, every year, between 42,000 and 51,000 people have to be rescued, according to the Système National d’Observation de la Sécurité en Montagne (SNOSM)

The campaign, with information in a number of languages including English, covers:

  • on-piste and off-piste safety advice (signalling, avalanche risks, freestyle areas, snowshoes, ski touring, etc.);
  • Help and instructions for children explained in a fun and educational way (educational games, games of the 7 families to be cut out, safety quizzes, advice sheets for sledding, skiing, prevention clips, etc.);
  • physical preparation (warm up before exercise, prepare your muscles and stretch well, also how to adapt the choice of pistes and the speed to your physical condition);
  • equipment and safety (helmet, goggles, sunscreen, etc.);
  • marking and signalling on the slopes (opening and marking of green, blue, red and black slopes, off-piste).

There are 220 ski resorts in France, the world’s second largest ski area, covering more than 26,500 hectares of land, across 30 departements.

In the 2021/22 ski season, totalling 53.9 million ‘ski days’, according to SNOSM, emergency services made 49,622 interventions in France’s ski areas, and 45,985 victims were treated for injuries.

The results show an increase in the number of interventions by ski safety services – a rise of 13 percent compared to the average of the five years prior to the pandemic – and the number of injured, up 8 percent. 

A few incidents on the slopes made the headlines at the time, including the five-year-old British girl who died after an adult skier crashed into her in the Alpine resort of Flaine, and the French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who died at the age of 37 after an accident while skiing in La Rosière, Savoie.

In total, 12 people died as a result of skiing incidents in France in the 2021/22 ski season. Three died following collisions between skiers, two after hitting an obstacle, and seven as a result of a fall or solo injuries. SNOSM also reported “a significant number of non-traumatic deaths, mostly due to cardiac problems” on France’s ski slopes.

The injuries due to solo falls – which represent 95 percent of all injuries –  on the ski slopes increased 2 percent compared to winter 2018/2019. Collisions between users fell, however (4.8 percent against . 5.6 percent) as did collisions between skiers and other people, and obstacles (0.7 percent compared to 0.85 percent).

The number of fatalities caused by avalanches, however, is at a historic low over the period 2011 to 2021, in part because of a relative lack of snow – leading to a drop in the number of avalanches and fewer people going off-piste, while awareness campaigns are hitting their mark, according to SNOSM.

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