France virus toll tops 17,000
A pedestrian wearing a protective facemask walks on an empty bridge in Paris. AFP
Over 17,000 people have now died in France from COVID-19, a top health official said on Wednesday, but the total number currently hospitalised has fallen for the first time since the epidemic began.
A total of 17,167 people are now confirmed to have died in France in hospitals and nursing homes, Jerome Salomon told reporters, compared with a total toll of 15,729 the day earlier.
But he said the difference between the two figures did not represent a daily toll due to the delayed collation of data from the Easter weekend.
In better news, he said there were currently 513 fewer coronavirus patients in hospital than the day before. "It remains very high but... the total shows for the first time a fall thanks to people who have been discharged."
In another encouraging sign, the total number in intensive care fell for the seventh day in a row, this time by 273 patients.
"A slight fall in the demand for intensive care is being confirmed," Salomon said, while adding that there was still pressure in some regions such as eastern France and the Paris area.
France has been in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic, with only essential trips allowed.
President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said that the epidemic "was beginning to steady" in France and added the lockdown could begin to be eased from May 11.
He said schools could gradually reopen then but cafes, cinemas and cultural venues would remain closed, and there could be no summer festivals until mid-July at the earliest.