By John Irish and Yiming Woo

PARIS (Reuters) – Senior Paris health officials said on Thursday there was reason for optimism in the fight against the new coronavirus in the worst-hit French region after the number of hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care units had begun to fall.

Paris and its suburbs account for more than a third of more than 31,700 confirmed infections in French hospitals.

Its healthcare facilities, including intensive care units, have been under severe pressure with officials scrambling to find more beds, ventilators and staff, and to spread the load of patients across the capital and its wider suburbs.

Almost 40% of France’s 10,600 hospital deaths have been in the region and some 2,500 people remain in intensive care. However, since the country was put into lockdown on March 17, the indications are that the situation is improving.

The national Public Health Authority on Wednesday recorded for the first time a drop in hospital admissions due to the COVID-19 disease.

“The deaths continue, but in the medical sector the deceleration is extremely clear,” Bertrand Godeau, internal medicine chief at the Mondor hospital, told reporters in a conference call on Thursday.

“This is a positive message. We have to continue the confinement until mid-May because the health professionals are seeing some palpable results.”

Bruno Riou, who heads up the Paris hospitals’ crisis team, said they had seen in recent days a sharp drop in the number of coronavirus-linked emergency calls and a fall in the number of hospital admissions.

He added that in the capital, the number of intensive care cases had fallen about 3% on Thursday to 1,000.

Doctors said that while they were beginning to come down from the coronavirus plateau, they were now preparing for a potential flood of other patients forced to put off urgent treatment and operations because of the coronavirus wave.

At the private Institut Mutualiste Montsouris clinic in Paris, which had been overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, the situation on Thursday was calm, underscoring the change on the ground. However, there remain concerns that there could be an uptick in cases should the national lockdown end too quickly.

“It’s true that there is less flow of intensive care patients and the fact that there is more and more space in the Paris region has given us some breathing room,” anaesthetist-intensive care doctor Jean-Luc Leguillou told Reuters.

“The problem is that we are still waiting to know whether there will be a second wave or not. The advantage of having this confinement for now is to avoid that second wave.”

(Reporting by John Irish and Yiming Woo; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)