Number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in France falls for first time

The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in France has fallen for the first time since the epidemic began, the country's health director has announced.

Number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in France falls for first time
Hospitals are still under extreme pressure, but the situation is beginning to ease. Photo: AFP

Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon said in the past 24 hours there were 82 fewer coronavirus patients in intensive care than the previous day – the first time that a fall in the overall number has been observed.

In the last 24 hours 424 people died, bringing the total number of deaths in hospitals and care homes to 12,210.

In total there were 7,066 coronavirus patients in intensive care on Thursday with 369 new admissions in the last 24 hours.

But factoring in the number of patients who left intensive care during the same period, the overall number requiring the highest level of care fell for the first time since the epidemic began, a statistic that Salomon described as “very important”.

“We are gradually putting the brakes on the epidemic,” he said, but added that “if we can hope for a plateau (in the epidemic) it is a very high plateau and we must remain extremely cautious”.

France's Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon. Photo: AFP

He has repeatedly flagged the intensive care data as being crucial, as it offers the most accurate prediction possible for the progress of the epidemic and whether it was reaching a peak.

It is also the figure that medical chiefs have been watching anxiously – at the start of the outbreak France had just 5,000 intensive care beds for the whole country. This was hastily expanded to 9,000 but there were fears that even this would not be enough.

Overall there are 30,767 coronavirus patients in French hospitals, 3,000 admitted over the last 24 hours.

While he flagged up the importance of the drop in intensive care patients, Salomon cautioned that the situation remained very serious.

He said: “We are faced with an exceptional situation that will continue over the long term. All together, we must stand together against the epidemic and respect the lockdown.”

The French government has already announced that the lockdown will be extended beyond April 15th, and president Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on TV on Monday, talking about the lockdown extension and possible future move to ease the restrictions.

The Scientific Council that advises the government has published the three conditions that it says must be met before the government can even begin to ease the country's strict lockdown conditions.

READ ALSO The three conditions that must be met before France can lift its coronavirus lockdown

Thursday's data from public health body Santé Publique France shows that 8,044 people have died in hospital from coronavirus and at least 4,166 people have died in care homes, although not all data from care homes has yet been collated, bringing the total to 12,210.

The hospital deaths for the last 24 hours are – at 424 – a fall from 541 on Wednesday and 607 on Tuesday.

France has only recently begun including deaths from care homes in its official statistics while countries including Spain, Italy and the UK still only count hospital deaths in their official statistics.

Salomon added that in total 23,000 people have recovered from the virus, with a further 2,000 people being discharged from hospital in the past 24 hours.

READ ALSO Yes, France's coronavirus death toll is grim, but here's why there is cause for optimism


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French doctors to stage more strikes in February

General practitioners in France are planning another industrial action that will see doctors' offices closed as they call for better investment in community healthcare.

French doctors to stage more strikes in February

Primary care doctors in France announced plans to strike again in February, after walkouts in December and over the Christmas-New Year holidays in early January.

The strike will take place on Tuesday, February 14th, and it comes just a few weeks ahead of the end-of-February deadline where France’s social security apparatus, Assurance Maladie, must reach an agreement to a structure for fees for GPs for the next five years.

Hospital doctors in France are largely barred from striking, but community healthcare workers such as GPs are self-employed and therefore can walk out. 

Their walk-out comes amid mass strike actions in February over the French government’s proposed pension reform. You can find updated information on pensions strikes HERE.

Previous industrial action led to widespread closures of primary care medical offices across the country. In December, strike action saw between 50 to 70 percent of doctor’s surgeries closed.

READ MORE: Urgent care: How to access non-emergency medical care in France

New concerns among GPs

According to reporting by La Depeche, in the upcoming strike in February primary care doctors will also be walking out over a new fear – the possibility of compulsory ‘on-call’ hours.

Currently, French GPs take on-call hours on a voluntary basis. Obligatory on-call time for primary care doctors was scrapped in the early 2000s after GPs mobilised against the requirement.

However, representatives from the Hospital Federation have called for it to be reinstated in order to help relieve emergency services.

Additionally, GPs are calling for Saturday shifts to considered as part of their standard working week, in order to allow for a two-day weekend.

Striking primary care doctors are more broadly calling for actions by the government and Assurance Maladie to help make the field more appealing to younger physicians entering the profession, as the country faces more medical deserts, and for working conditions to be improved.

Those walking out hope to see administrative procedures to be simplified and for the basic consultation fee – typically capped to €25 – to be doubled to €50.

In France patients pay the doctor upfront for a visit, and then a portion of the fee is reimbursed by the government via the carte vitale health card.