France reports 987 more coronavirus deaths as toll tops 13,000

France on Friday reported 987 more COVID-19 deaths registered in hospitals and nursing homes over the last 24 hours, although the number of patients in intensive care fell for the second day in a row.

France reports 987 more coronavirus deaths as toll tops 13,000

The new deaths — including 554 in hospitals and 433 in nursing homes — brought the total toll in France to 13,197 since the epidemic began, top health official Jerome Salomon told reporters.

A child aged under 10 infected with COVID-19 died, but Salomon said that the causes of the death were “multiple”.

In better news, Salomon said there were now 62 fewer people in intensive care for a total of 7,004 patients, continuing a trend first seen on Thursday.

“This is pale ray of sunshine,” said Salomon.

“But this timid light is very important for all the medical staff.” He added: “A plateau seems to be setting in — a very high plateau with an epidemic that is very dynamic.”

France has been in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic, with only essential trips allowed that must be justified with a signed piece of paper.

“We have been starting to see over the last days the first effects of the confinement,” noted Salomon, noting a “slight slowing of the epidemic”.

French President Emmanuel Macron is due on Monday to address the nation for a third time during the crisis. He is expected to announce that the lockdown will be extended beyond its current April 15 expiration date.

Macron will have to steer a careful course amid tentative signs of improvement, telling people they must still stay at home while giving indications about how the confinement may end.

The president on Friday hosted a video conference with business groups and union leaders to help prepare for his address. Macron had “two messages. This is not the moment to drop our guard as the confinement is the way to halt the epidemic. But we need to think about ending the lockdown, even if it seems we are not there yet,” said Yves Veyrier, head of the FO union.

French authorities on Friday transferred 45 more patients by two TGV high-speed trains to the southwest of the country in a bid to relieve pressure on strained hospitals in the Paris region.

Some 200 patients have already been evacuated by road, rail or air from the Paris region since April 1. The southwest of the country is one of the areas least impacted by the virus.

The situation in nursing homes remains one of acute concern.

The top health official for the Ile-de-France region of Paris and its surroundings, Aurelien Rousseau, said on Friday that over 400 of the 700 nursing homes in the region had registered at least one COVID-19 case.

Meanwhile, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle has registered 50 cases of novel coronavirus among the crew, the armed forces ministry said Friday

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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.