France has set another daily record with more than 16,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours amid warnings that Britain could follow in its footsteps.
The 16,096 new cases blew away the previous record of 13,498 set on Sunday, bringing France’s total to nearly half a million infections.
While the true number of infections was likely higher in the first wave – limited testing meant the high-water mark in the spring was only 7,578 cases – the latest rise has brought an uptick in deaths while more than 1,000 people are in intensive care for the first time since June.
The city of Marseille has been put on ‘maximum alert’ with intensive care wards filling up, while Paris and 10 other cities are at ‘elevated alert’ with bars and restaurants ordered to close early.
CASES: France posted an all-time record of 16,096 cases on Thursday, although limited testing means the true figures were likely far higher in the spring
DEATHS: Daily fatalities have ticked up to an average of around 60 a day but are yet to approach the disastrous heights of the first wave
France’s total number of infections is now 497,237 in the second-largest outbreak in Western Europe, behind Spain.
That total has doubled in the last month as a summer lull gave way to a resurgent spread of the virus in August and September.
Britain’s top scientific advisers have pointed to the rebound in France and Spain as a sign of things to come if the UK does not bring its own resurgence under control.
While deaths are well below the peak of March and April, France is now seeing dozens of hospital deaths per day compared to only a handful in late July and early August.
The latest update on Thursday showed 52 new deaths in French hospitals, bringing the country’s overall death toll to 31,511.
Hundreds of people are being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 every day, with more than 6,000 patients currently on coronavirus wards.
Of the current hospital patients, more than half are aged 70 or over, with more than 2,000 of them in their 80s or 90s.
More than 1,000 people are in intensive care for the first time since early June, although capacity has doubled to around 10,000 since before the pandemic.
ICU wards are filling up in Marseille, with hospitals warning that the health system is close to overload.
All bars and restaurants have been closed in the Mediterranean port city, prompting criticism from Marseille’s mayor and local business owners.
Bars and restaurants are facing closures and reduced opening hours because of the second wave (pictured, people on the terrace of a Paris cafe on Wednesday)
Doctors in Marseille are warning of medical facilities being overwhelmed by the crisis (pictured, a virus patient on an ICU ward in the city)
‘There is no question that you will suffer the consequences of these health measures,’ prime minister Jean Castex told a Marseille restaurant owner who called into France 2 television.
He said that affected businesses would be exempt from some charges, and a partial unemployment scheme would be extended until the measures are lifted.
He also called on all French citizens to show ‘responsibility’ in the face of the rising case numbers.
‘What I don’t want is that we go back to March,’ he said, referring to one of the strictest national lockdowns in Europe in which French people were required to fill out forms to leave their homes.
Castex also admitted that he has not downloaded his own government’s StopCovid contact tracing app.
‘Yes I am pushing the French to use it, but I do not,’ he said on France 2, explaining that he no longer takes the metro since becoming PM in July.
Marseille’s left-wing mayor objected that she had not been consulted about orders to shut bars, restaurants and sports facilities, and insisted that steps taken locally had already started slowing the outbreak.
‘I am angry because there was no consultation,’ Mayor Michele Rubirola, a trained doctor, told Franceinfo radio.
‘Why turn the screws when our numbers have been improving for a few days now?’
INTENSIVE CARE CASES: French ICU wards are treating more than 1,000 people for the first time since mid-June
France has been hard-hit by the second wave of coronavirus in Europe, along with Spain (this map shows the recent number of cases per 100,000 people, with higher figures in darker colours)
Owners of restaurants, cafes and other businesses in Marseille said they would stage a protest against the new measures on Friday.
Bernard Marty of the UMIH union, which represents the hospitality sector, warned of ‘insurrection,’ with several restaurant owners vowing to ignore the closure orders.
Emmanuel Macron’s government has also limited public gatherings to 10 people in cities including Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, which will see its gyms and other indoor sporting facilities closed as well, said she had lodged a formal protest.
‘How will the fact that we can no longer exercise help us, while sport is an important part of keeping us healthy with strong immune systems?’ Hidalgo asked on France 3 television.
Paris hospital authority AP-HP said Thursday that an influx of coronavirus patients was forcing it to start cancelling non-emergency surgery starting this weekend.
The number of coronavirus patients in Paris hospitals had more than doubled in three weeks, from 150 to 330, and would probably reach 600 by month’s end, said deputy director Francois Cremieux.
The number in intensive care have followed a similar upward curve, from 50 three weeks ago to 132 on Wednesday and likely more than 200 by next week, he said.