France records 499 coronavirus deaths in a single day as more patients sent abroad

France on Tuesday recorded its highest daily death toll so far as mass evacuation of patients from overwhelmed hospitals is stepped up.

France records 499 coronavirus deaths in a single day as more patients sent abroad
The French military have been airlifting patients to hospitals abroad. Photo: AFP

In the last 24 hours 499 coronavirus patients have died in hospital in France – the death toll does not include those who died at home or in retirement homes, so the real total is likely to be even higher.

The numbers represent a big jump from the 418 people who died on Monday and the 365 who died on Friday.

Also on Tuesday another 458 people were admitted to intensive care, meaning more than 5,500 coronavirus patients were in a serious condition in French hospitals.

READ ALSO ANALYSIS When will coronavirus cases peak in France?

It brings the total number of people who have died of coronavirus in France to 3,523, while 9,444 people are recorded to have recovered.

The numbers were revealed by Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon in his daily briefing, where he also confirmed that the evacuation of patients from certain areas was being stepped up as hospitals struggle to cope.

“This situation is completely unprecedented in the history of French medicine,” said Salomon.

Cases in France have so far been concentrated in the east of the country, where the first 'clusters' of cases were seen, and the greater Paris Île-de-France region.

Hospitals in both areas are under severe pressure and struggling to cope with the number of cases.

Salomon said that patients from eastern France were being airlifted out to hospitals in other parts of France and to other countries – Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg have all taken French patients.

Specially fitted out medical trains have also been employed to take patients to other parts of France.

And now patients are also being evacuated from Paris by train.

Salomon confirmed that two medical trains will leave Paris tomorrow, bound for Brittany, where there have been fewer cases and hospitals have more capacity.

The Local on Friday spoke to a doctor at Paris' specialist fever hospital Bichat, which now takes only coronavirus patients, and he described a system at breaking point.

Célestin-Alexis Agbessi said: “We are starting to lack beds across the entire (Paris) region.”

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned over the weekend that the most difficult days are ahead. Experts predict that the situation will get more difficult this week after which, they hope, the effects of France's strict lockdown will be seen and the numbers will start to fall.

But Dr Agbessi told The Local: “If the epidemic follows a growth pattern comparable to what we have seen in Italy and China, it's clear that we're only at the beginning.

”This is not a wave,” he stressed. “A wave hits you and leaves. This is a flood – the water is slowly rising, filling all the rooms until there's nowhere to escape.”

Health authorities in the Île-de-Paris region have been so desperate that in recent days they have appealed to veterinary centres to loan vital medical equipment such as ventilators.

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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.