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Macron launches army Operation Resilience to support fight against coronavirus

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech after his visit to the military field hospital outside the Emile Muller Hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France, March 25, 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech after his visit to the military field hospital outside the Emile Muller Hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France, March 25, 2020. © REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced the launch of army Operation Resilience to provide support in the fight against COVID-19 along with "massive investments" in the country's public health system as France’s coronavirus death toll rose to 1,331 with 25,233 confirmed cases.

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Addressing a news conference from the coronavirus-wracked eastern French city of Mulhouse, where a military field hospital has been set up by the army, Macron promised comprehensive short- and long-term policy measures to tackle the crisis.

As part of the new Operation Resilience, the army will be deployed to help with logistics and medical support. France is also deploying helicopter carriers to help transport patients in overseas French territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean, Macron announced.

This new operation "will be entirely devoted to aid and support for the population, as well as support for public services to deal with the epidemic”, said Macron.

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The French military has been actively engaged in health and logistical operations since the latest health crisis struck the country. The military’s health service have carried out three air rotations to evacuate patients from the hard-hit eastern region of France to areas less saturated with coronavirus patients. Besides the military field hospital in Mulhouse, the military has also done naval transfers of serious coronavirus cases from the French Mediterranean island of Corsica to the mainland.

French troops to withdraw from Iraq

Hours after Macron’s address Wednesday night, the country’s Armed Forces Ministry said France will withdraw all troops it has stationed in Iraq until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"France has taken the decision to repatriate until further notice its personnel deployed in Operation Chammal in Iraq," the ministry said, adding that it involved around 100 soldiers.

The army said it would continue air operations against the Islamic State (IS) group.

‘Massive’ new investment plan

Macron also promised a “massive” new investment plan for public hospitals, after years of cuts in the country’s renowned health care system that have complicated efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

"Once this crisis is over, a massive investment plan and an upgrade of the career paths will be put in place for our hospital system," said Macron.

Facing criticism that his government was too slow to lock down the country as the virus spread, Macron called for national unity and castigated those “who would fracture the country, when we should have one obsession: to be united to fight the virus”.

Call for national unity

Reiterating that France is at “war” with the virus, Macron warned: “We are just at the beginning. But we will make it through, because we will not surrender, because we have the strength.”

Macron's speech came as French health authorities on Wednesday reported 231 new deaths from coronavirus, taking the total to 1,331.

The rise in the number of deaths from coronavirus represents a daily increase in France of 21 percent, a slight slowing from the previous two days with the country now in its second week of lockdown.

France's health agency director Jérôme Salomon said the total number of coronavirus cases had risen to 25,233, a rise of about 13 percent in 24 hours.

Salomon added that 2,827 people were in a serious condition, needing life support, up 12 percent compared to Tuesday and meaning that more than one third of France's 8,000 beds equipped with ventilation gear are occupied.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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