France deaths rise as govt warns of ‘evolving’ virus

A technician inspects a vial during a rehearsal for Covid-19 testing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday. (AP pic)

PARIS: France on Monday reported 263 more deaths from the coronavirus, a sharp increase on previous days as the country marked the first easing of an almost two-month lockdown.

The new deaths brought the total toll in hospitals and nursing homes from the pandemic in France to 26,643, the health ministry said.

The ministry had on Sunday reported 70 more deaths, the lowest daily toll announced since March 17, the day the lockdown in France began.

However, weekend tolls are frequently lower than during the week, possibly because of reporting lags, particularly in nursing homes.

France was on Monday beginning to emerge from weeks of lockdown and hundreds flocked to the riverbanks and main canal in Paris to enjoy a sunny spring day.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner was not pleased, criticising the “irresponsible behaviour” and ordering the authorities in the capital to ban alcohol in those areas.

“The success of the deconfinement depends on everyone’s prudence and civic-mindedness,” he wrote on Twitter.

The government has divided France into green and red areas, with Paris and three other “red” regions seeing a more limited relaxation of the rules.

The civil servant in charge of the easing measures, Jean Castex, has warned that the lockdown could be reimposed if the number of cases surges again.

“In the absence in the short term of a vaccination or a treatment, the French population remains vulnerable to a resumption of the epidemic,” he wrote in his report for the easing of the lockdown.

“The possibility that the (easing) measures can be reversed … must be anticipated by the authorities.”

There has been a steady downward trend in France’s key coronavirus figures in recent days, although officials warn that caution is still needed and the risk of a second wave remains.

The health ministry in its statement urged people to wear masks in some situations in public and observe social distancing, saying: “The epidemic is still active and evolving.”

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