France toll tops 25,000 as PM defends post-lockdown plan

by Stuart Williams and Joseph Schmid

France on Monday reached the grim milestone of over 25,000 coronavirus deaths as its prime minister defended the government’s plan for easing a lockdown in the face of bitter criticism.

The French are due to emerge on May 11 from a lockdown that began in mid-March to combat the virus, with some schools reopening in a strategy different to other European countries.

Signs have grown that the epidemic is slowing in France although a spike in the daily death toll Monday to 306 — more than double the day earlier — propelled its total number of dead past 25,000 to 25,201.

But according to the latest health ministry figures, the more positive recent trends continued, with 123 fewer patients suffering from the coronavirus in intensive care to make a total of 3,696 receiving such urgent treatment.

Nationwide, there were also 267 fewer patients in hospital for coronavirus treatment, making a total of 25,548, it added.

France is now the fifth country to have recorded over 25,000 coronavirus deaths after Britain, Italy, Spain and the United States.

‘Economic life must resume’

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe rejected concerns that the government is moving too fast especially by reopening schools, a move that puts France out of step with some other EU countries.

“This confinement was necessary to meet the emergency, but its social and economic cost is colossal,” he told the Senate.

“We’re at a decisive moment, we cannot remain in confinement,” he said. “Economic life must resume imperatively and quickly.”

The government is impatient to relaunch activity, already forecasting that the economy will contract eight percent this year in its worst postwar performance.

But on Sunday, more than 300 mayors from the greater Paris region, including Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, penned an open letter to President Emmanuel Macron urging him to delay school returns, saying they need more time for the vast reorganisation of classrooms and daily routines.

Among the myriad new measures is a limit of just 15 students per class, which could require teachers to ensure distance learning for those unable to come to school.

“Preparations for the end of the lockdown are being imposed at a forced march, even though we still lack the necessary information,” the mayors wrote. (AFP)