PARIS (Reuters) – France’s registered death toll from coronavirus infections rose towards 18,000 on Thursday, but some data suggested the spread of the disease has been contained after a one-month old national lockdown, officials said.

During a press conference Jerome Salomon, head of the public health authority, said the number of people in hospital had declined for a second day running, and that the total number in intensive care units had fallen for the eighth day in a row.

“Our collective efforts demonstrate their effectiveness. The spread of the virus is stabilizing at a high level (…) and that is good news,” Salomon said.

Corroborating this observation, senior health officials in Paris – the worst-hit region in France – said there was reason for optimism in the fight against the new coronavirus in view of the number of hospitalisations and admissions to ICU units.

But Salomon said the French health system was still under huge stress and that it was crucial French citizens continued to comply with the lockdown put in place on March 17 and extended to May 11 on Monday. [L5N2C1383]

“The decline in intensive care needs is consolidating, but 6,248 patients in ICU units is a much higher figure than the initial maximum capacity in these units in France,” Salomon said.

That number was however at its lowest since April 1 and is down by almost 1,000 from its April 8 peak of 7,148. Before COVID-19 started to spread, France had 5,000 hospital beds equipped with ventilation gear.

At 17,920, the number of fatalities is up 4.4% over 24 hours, with the rate of increase decelerating again after speeding up in the two previous days.

France has the fourth highest tally of fatalities in the world, behind the United States, Italy and Spain. These four countries account for almost two-thirds of the current global total of more than 140,000 deaths.

The rate of increase in confirmed coronavirus cases in France remained steady at 2.5%, with 108,847 cases. In nursing homes however, probable cases shot up by 36%, reaching 37,213.

That took the total number of confirmed and possible cases to 146,606, up 9.4%, against Wednesday’s increase of 2.2%.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Chris Reese and Jan Harvey)

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