PARIS (Reuters) – Coronavirus fatalities in France increased steadily on Tuesday to nearly 21,000, but the number of patients in intensive care registered its sharpest decline since the beginning of the outbreak.

Public health chief Jerome Salomon said the rate of increase of confirmed coronavirus cases, now 117,324 in total, was up for the second day running, but the number of people in hospital was down for the seventh consecutive day.

“This pandemic is massive. The virus is still circulating at a high level. We must keep up our full commitment”, Salomon told a news conference.

France has entered its fifth week of lockdown, which will remain in place until May 11.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said that after May 11 children will go back to school in stages and in much smaller classes in order to minimise infection risk.

France reported 531 more coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total to 20,796, a 2.6% daily increase after 2.8% on Monday. That is the fourth-highest tally in the world, behind the United States, Italy and Spain.

The number of people in intensive care units in France fell 4.4% to 5,433, the lowest since March 30 and the 13th consecutive daily decline.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Chris Reese and Giles Elgood)

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