By Benoit Van Overstraeten
(Reuters) – France became the fifth country to report more than 1,000 deaths from coronavirus on Tuesday and a government body dealing with the outbreak suggested the national lockdown imposed last week for an initial 15 days should last at least six weeks.
Health Minister Olivier Veran told a briefing he could not determine at this stage when the lockdown would end. If the government were to follow the scientific council’s advice, France would remain at a virtual standstill until April 28.
A statement by the council, which advises President Emmanuel Macron on the coronavirus crisis, also said the lockdown was the only really efficient strategy at the moment and “needs to be strictly implemented”.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Monday the widespread lockdown in France could last several more weeks and his government was tightening restrictions on daily life even further.
Veran also said France would heed World Health Organization recommendations to increase coronavirus testing. Health agency chief Jerome Salomon said later France would soon be able to conduct 10,000 tests a day.
Salomon reported 240 new deaths from coronavirus on Tuesday for a total of 1,100, an increase of 28% that made France the fifth nation to cross the 1,000-fatalities threshold after – China, Italy, Iran and Spain.
This tally only accounts for people who died in public hospitals, whereas several retirement homes have been reporting deaths in the double digits.
Salomon said health authorities would soon be able to tabulate data coming from retirement homes, which will likely trigger a more dramatic increase in registered fatalities.
He said the total number of infections in France had risen to 22,300, a 12% jump in 24 hours.
Salomon added that 2,516 people were in a serious condition requiring life support, up by 21% from Monday, and that 8,000 hospital beds were now equipped with ventilators.
(Reporting Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Mark Heinrich)