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France steps up efforts as fight against coronavirus has only just begun

Published : 29 Mar 2020, 00:55

  DF-Xinhua Report

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. File Photo Xinhua.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Saturday said the combat to contain rapid-circulating coronavirus epidemic "has only just begun" as the government was stepping up "long-term intense effort."

"I will tell you things with clarity and frankness: the first 15 days of April will be difficult, harder than those we have just gone through," Philippe said in a press conference.

"We are in a difficult period. We are setting up in a fight that will last. We will win the combat by respecting confinement and barrier gestures," he added, stressing that "France is armed and it is not alone."

France on March 17 placed its 67 million population under two-week containment. Only journeys for reasons of work, health needs or shopping of necessities are allowed. Outdoor gatherings are banned, friendly or family gatherings no longer allowed. Schools and universities are closed, all non-essential businesses have shut down.

Tough restriction on people's movement would remain in place until at least April 15. Further extension would be likely imposed.

Warning about an unprecedented epidemic outbreak, the prime minister noted the virus was spreading at "very rapid pace" and confirmed infection cases doubled "every three to four days."

As of Saturday, infections rose by further 4,611 to 37, 575 while a total of 2,314 people had died, an increase of 319 within a day.

Some 17,620 patient were hospitalized, including 4,273 in intensive care, up by 486 from Friday's tally.

Struggling to curb the epidemic outbreak, the government's strategy was based on bolstering hospitals' resuscitation capacities, providing more protective gear to frontline medical staff and making containment instruction strictly respected.

By triggering hospitals "white plan" of extra mobilization, at early stage, the government had allowed the country's health system to be prepared to absorb an additional influx of patients linked to the coronavirus, according to Health Minister Olivier Veran.

France offers 5,000 beds in resuscitation units. The figure was increased to 10,000 notably by re-organizing other units such as recovery rooms to treat critical situations. The government now targets between 14,000 and 14,500 beds, Veran said.

As the coronavirus outbreak worsens, a dire shortage of face masks, gloves and other basic equipment has fueled anger among health takers. Workers in contact with the public, especially the police and firefighters, also cried alarm.

To ease the shortage nationwide, France has ordered one billion face masks, the minister announced.

"We produce 8 million masks every week while we consume 40 million. Our reserves are not limitless," he said, adding that France "has placed orders wherever possible in the world, especially in China."

The minister also unveiled the government's decision to ramp up testing following the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

With the aim, France has increased testing capacities to 12,000 per day from 5,000. It expected to further multiply tests to reach 50,000 daily tests by the end of April.

France has already ordered 5 million rapid tests in order to reinforce health services' ability to detect the virus once the lockdown would be lifted, according to the health minister.