By Geert De Clercq

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s cumulative coronavirus death toll edged back above Spain’s as the health ministry reported that the number of people who died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours increased by 351 or 1.3% to 27,425.

Spain earlier on Thursday reported 217 new deaths, taking its toll to 27,321. France’s toll first jumped over Spain’s on Tuesday, but dipped below it on Wednesday.

France has the world’s fourth-highest death toll after the United States (83,720), Britain (33,186) and Italy (31,106). Brazil, whose casualty rate is climbing quickly, has the sixth most deaths with 13,149 fatalities.

The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in France increased by 622 to 141,356 on Thursday, up 0.4% and the eighth consecutive day that the case tally rose by about half a percentage point or less.

“The COVID-19 epidemic remains active and the virus is still circulating in France,” the ministry said in a statement on the fourth day after lockdown ended.

France saw its slowest increase in the infection rate on Sunday, the last day of the 55-day lockdown, when the number of new infections went up by 209 (or 0.3%), which was the lowest since well before the lockdown started on March 17.

At the peak of the epidemic on March 31, France recorded 7,578 new infections in 24 hours. The government has said that it may go into selective lockdown again if the daily infection rates jumps above 3,000 again.

Between March 23 and April 11, France on average counted nearly 4,000 new infections per day and the infection rate did not fall below the 3,000 threshold until after a month of strict nationwide lockdown.

On top of the confirmed cases, France has also reported nearly 40,000 probable cases in nursing homes.

The health ministry also reported that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 infection fell by 608 to 20,463 on Thursday and the number of people in intensive care fell by 129 to 2,299.

Both numbers – key indicators for the French health system’s ability to cope with the epidemic – have been on a downtrend for several weeks and peaked at over 32,000 and over 7,000 respectively in early to mid-April.

France on Thursday announced a 18 billion euro ($19 billion) support package for its virus-hit tourism industry, which accounts for almost 8% of gross domestic product and attracted nearly 90 million foreign visitors last year.

(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word from headline)

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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