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France evacuates more coronavirus patients from east to free up hospital beds

A paramedic carries out a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance at the Henri Mondor Hospital in Creteil, near Paris, as France faces an aggressive progression of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
A paramedic carries out a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance at the Henri Mondor Hospital in Creteil, near Paris, as France faces an aggressive progression of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier REUTERS - BENOIT TESSIER

France evacuated 36 more coronavirus patients from the hard-hit east to western areas on Sunday, hoping to free up intensive care units as hospitals brace for even more serious cases in the coming days.

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Two high-speed trains carried patients from Mulhouse and Nancy toward hospitals along France’s western coast, where the outbreak has been limited so far.

Dozens of hospital workers, flanked by police and soldiers standing guard, spent hours installing four patients in each wagon in an operation that began before dawn.

“We have to free up beds, it’s absolutely crucial that we air out these intensive care units. We’re still seeing an increase in patient numbers,” said Francois Brun, head of emergency services at the regional hospital in nearby Metz.

The evacuations came as France announced that the German government would send a military plane on Sunday to bring patients from Alsace to hospitals in Stuttgart and Ulm.

France has already evacuated dozens over the past week from the east, hoping to stay ahead of a crisis that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned would only worsen over the next two weeks.

Overall nearly 4,300 coronavirus patients are in intensive care, many with severe respiratory problems requiring ventilators that officials worry could soon be in short supply.

Philippe said the government was racing to have 14,000 intensive care beds available soon, compared with around 5,000 before the outbreak began in January.

‘Battle is only starting’

France has mobilised its military to help hospitals, with the army using a helicopter to transport two patients to Metz and Essen in western Germany on Saturday.

“This war will probably be won on the basis of intensive care beds, and our ability to strategically use all our intensive care resources on the national level,” said Marie-Odile Saillard, director of the Metz regional hospital.

There are now 37,575 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in France, up 4,611 on the day before, the government said Sunday.

The death toll stands at 2,314, but the numbers do not include deaths reported by the roughly 7,000 retirement homes and assisted-living facilities across the country, where officials fear the virus risks spreading quickly.

Those figures will start to be reported this week, the prime minister said Sunday, warning that “the battle is only starting”.

The government has ordered one billion face masks, mainly from China, but warned that worldwide demand for protective equipment meant they might not arrive soon enough for medical workers facing shortages.

France has been on lockdown since March 17 in a bid to limit the outbreak, a situation it now expects to last until at least April 15.

(AFP)

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