Paris hospitals on emergency footing as virus cases rise
PARIS (AP) - French health officials on Thursday ordered Paris hospitals to take immediate action to deal with the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients and announced tougher restrictions in four major cities where the virus is present spread rapidly.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said the virus situation "unfortunately continues to worsen in France" as "more and more people are infected" and "more and more people are getting sick".
Hospitals in Paris and its suburbs have activated an emergency plan as COVID-19 patients now fill 40% of the area's intensive care units.
Veran announced new restrictions in areas where hospitals are exposed to stress and infections are increasing.
As of Saturday, the northern city of Lille near the border with Belgium and the cities of Grenoble, Lyon and Saint-Etienne in eastern France will be exposed to a maximum virus alert, he said. They will join Paris, Marseille and the island of Guadeloupe in French overseas.
The maximum alert level implies closing bars, implementing stricter measures in restaurants, and limiting private gatherings.
Veran noted some "signs of improvement" in some regions, with infections slowing down after new virus rules were put in place. These include France's second largest city, Marseille, Nice on the French Riviera and Bordeaux in western France.
"We hope to have some good news to share next week," he said.
Paris Region Health Director Aurelien Rousseau tweeted Thursday that he had ordered hospital directors to activate a special emergency plan to free up resources and protect medical staff. The move was necessary, he said, "given the pressure on intensive care units and conventional hospital activities."
Any hospital's contingency plan may include actions such as adding hospital beds, postponing non-urgent surgeries, moving non-COVID-19 patients to other facilities, or sending them home, retrieving staff from vacation, and asking for Help from volunteers, according to the health department. Such measures were taken in March and April when the pandemic first broke out across Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday called for further restrictions in areas where the epidemic is still spreading rapidly.
"We're not in a normal time and we won't be for a few months," Macron said on national television.
As countries across Europe face resurgent virus cases, the French government is trying to avoid new blanket bans and is instead focusing on more targeted restrictions.
France reported a record 18,700 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, and COVID-19 patients now occupy a quarter of ICU beds nationwide. France has reported 32,445 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began, which is among the highest tolls in Europe.
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