What do we know about the people who died from coronavirus in France?

The death toll in France from coronavirus is now more than 17,000 and is still climbing daily, but what do we know about all these people who have lost their lives?

What do we know about the people who died from coronavirus in France?
Photo: AFP

Back in early March, as the coronavirus outbreak in France was just beginning, each death was announced separately and was frequently followed by personal tributes in the victim's local paper, giving a face and a personality to the statistics.

But as the death toll rose this because impossible and now we are simply given daily announcements of the numbers of people – still in the hundreds – who have died in the past 24 hours.

But while it is sadly no longer possible to say exactly who these people were, detailed data from the French public health agency Santé Publique France does enable us to learn some things about the victims of the virus.

So who are these thousands of people?

The elderly

Unsurprisingly, the majority of victims in France are elderly and this is the one trend of the virus that has been clear from the start; elderly people are the most vulnerable.

Although the elderly are in general more vulnerable to illness this is not always the case in pandemics – the 1918 Spanish Flu hit young adults the hardest, with half of all deaths occurring in the 20-40 age group.

Since March 1st, 71 percent of coronavirus victims in France have been 75 or older, with a further 18 percent in the 65-74 age group.

Under 14s account for less than one percent of deaths and people aged 15-44 for one percent of deaths.

The death of a 16-year-old sixth form student in Paris was widely reported, but statistically was very much an anomaly. 


The ill

Again, it is not a surprise that people who already have medical problems are less able to fight off coronavirus, but there are some conditions that seem to make people particularly vulnerable to the illness.

More than 80 percent of the people who have died in France had at least one underlying medical condition.

Of the people who died in hospital, heart disease (36 percent) was the most commonly seen illness, followed by diabetes (30 percent) and respiratory conditions (23 percent).

Obesity has been raised as a risk factor by several French public health officials, and 9 percent of the people who died were counted as morbidly obese (with a BMI of 40 or above).

Pregnancy is often listed as a risk factor for a range of illnesses, but the Santé Publique France data listed no pregnant women among the dead.

The above detailed data is only available from patients who died in hospital. 

Around one third of deaths in France have occurred in the country's Ehpad nursing homes, whose occupants are elderly and frail, so in fact the underlying illnesses will be much higher.


Replicating data seen all over the world, more men have died in France than women.

In France 57 percent of coronavirus deaths were men, compared to an international ratio of 61 percent.

No-one can really explain why this is the case and suggestions range from the social – men are generally more likely to be smokers and less likely to visit the doctor – to the biological such as differences in hormone reactions to the virus.

A military hospital was built in Mulhouse in Grand Est, one of the worst affected regions. Photo: AFP

Residents of Paris and eastern France

We know that certain regions are worse affected than others, but the data shows the huge differences between different parts of the country.

Thirty nine percent of victims are from the greater Paris Île-de-France region, where just 18 percent of the population lives.

Paris and its surrounding areas are among the most densely populated areas of areas of France, which partially accounts for the rapid spread, but other densely populated areas like Marseille have escaped relatively lightly.

The second highest death toll is in Grand Est, the eastern region including Mulhouse which saw the first coronavirus clusters and accounts for 21 percent of deaths.

The data then sees a big fall to the next worst regions of Hauts-de-France (nine percent), Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (eight percent) and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (five percent).

These numbers provide the context for the mass evacuation operation that saw hundreds of critically ill patients moved out of Île-de-France and Grand Est, by train and plane, to other parts of France.

IN NUMBERS The evacuation of patients from France's overwhelmed hospitals

All data from Santé Publique France, from March 1st to April 14th.




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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.