France at 80,000 Covid deaths amid intensive care pressure

France hit the 80,000 threshold this week but the government says its measures are ‘stabilising’ the epidemic - as healthcare staff demand more intensive care beds and training

10 February 2021
By Hannah Thompson

More than 80,000 people have now died from Covid-19 in France, but the government says that recent measures mean the situation is “stabilising” - as healthcare staff call for more intensive care support.

The country hit the 80,000 threshold on Tuesday February 9. The official figures from Santé publique France for the same day showed 439 more deaths, on top of recent elderly care home deaths.

The number of hospitalisations linked to Covid-19 remains high, at more than 11,000 in the past 24 hours; and an average of 1,700 to 1,800 new admissions to intensive care over seven days, since January 24.

Professor Yves Cohen, head of intensive care at the Avicenne Hospital in northern Paris, told the Agence France-Presse: “Over these past two weeks, we have seen a tripling of Covid patients in intensive care.

“With the arrival of the [new UK] variant, we are at risk of becoming totally overwhelmed.”

The hospital has 32 intensive care beds - double the number it had before the pandemic - but has had to open a new extra intensive care wing in addition.

France on ‘alert’ but situation ‘stable’

Health Minister Olivier Véran said that the government is still “in a state of very high alert” over the changing epidemic, but that the situation appears to be “stabilising”.

He said that the incidence of the new variants had “risen by around 50% in the past week, which is slower than in countries that do not have a curfew in place. Therefore, the measures we have put in place are allowing us to stabilise the health situation”.

These measures include a nationwide curfew from 18:00 to 06:00; the closure of non-food commercial centres of more than 20,000m2, and the continued closure of bars, restaurants, and cultural centres.

Read more: Covid France: Stricter rules to halt spread of new variants

The minister said that the government and health authorities were monitoring the situation daily, and would “not be caught short” if the situation changed and more stringent measures were needed.

While the government has never ruled out the possibility of another lockdown, the minister has echoed President Emmanuel Macron in saying: “It is obviously possible and preferable that we never have another confinement.”


Intensive care bed demand

Emergency staff and intensive care workers have this week echoed Professor Cohen’s fears of intensive care units (ICU) becoming overwhelmed, and called for a rise in the number of available ICU beds and ICU-trained staff.

In a joint statement, emergency group and intensive care union l'Association des Médecins urgentistes de France and le Syndicat national des médecins réanimateurs called for a rise in the number of intensive care beds and staff to ease pressure on units.

Currently, there are 27,677 people hospitalised in France, of which 3,342 are in intensive care.

The statement said: “Our two organisations are demanding on the one hand, a rise from 74 trained staff each year to 150, to ensure new generations [of trained staff]; and, on the other hand, a permanent doubling of intensive care beds in France.”

It continued: “The lack of intensive care beds creates a useless shortage and puts France in the bottom ranks of OECD countries in terms of intensive care equipment and infrastructure.”

The groups said that temporary intensive care units designed for the epidemic were “nonsense” because they “destabilise the system, and prioritise Covid patients to the detriment of other patients”.

It said: “The Covid epidemic is going to last a long time still. Anticipating it is the best way to not be overwhelmed.”

Call to nurses

This week the health minister also appealed to healthcare workers who have quit the profession over the past year due to pressures of Covid.

Caroline Fiat MP had questioned the minister and asked him to “hear” from the 180,000 nurses “who have changed profession” in the past nine months.

Mr Véran appealed to these workers, and invited them to come back to the profession, saying that he was working to improve conditions and pay.

Yet, Ms Fiat was not convinced. She said: “Is this a joke? The numbers [of staff leaving] speak for themselves.”

A report from hospital group la Fédération hospitalière de France (FHF), found that there had been a “slight rise in professional nurses and care workers leaving” in 2020, due to “the continued perceived worsening working conditions” associated with the Covid crisis.

It said: “Even though the numbers leaving are not worrying at this stage, human resources directors have noted the professional fatigue, and a rise in departures, which show feelings of exhaustion.”

State of health emergency extended

Meanwhile, the government has extended the state of health emergency until June 1. This means that it is legally permitted to restrict public freedoms - such as by imposing a curfew and/or a lockdown - due to the health situation.

Related stories

France Covid-19: Vaccines on track and no new lockdown

Why there is no new lockdown in France (for now)

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