France sees spike in COVID-19 cases, fatalities despite lockdown

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The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in France has risen by 1,559 within a day to 16,018, while the death toll increased by 112 to 674 in total, Health General Director Jerome Salomon said on Sunday.

Currently, 7,240 people are hospitalized, including 1,746 patients in intensive care. So far, 2,200 people have made recovery, according to figures updated by the French health official.

"The epidemic continues to spread and get worse," said Salomon, who also announced the first COVID-19 fatality among French medical staff.

In a Facebook post by one of the victim's children, the deceased was an emergency doctor from Compiegne, in the Oise in northern France, one of the first departments to be hardly affected by the virus.

"The virus kills and continues to kill...The situation will continue to worsen in the coming days before the results of a strict confinement slow down the epidemic," Salomon said.

"The French must be patient and show solidarity. Staying at home is saving lives and avoiding serious cases," he added.

Salomon revealed that a European clinical trial was launched this Sunday in at least seven European countries to test four experimental treatments against the coronavirus.

"It is planned to include 3,200 patients in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain and may be other countries, including at least 800 in France," he said.

Speaking to RTL radio and LCI television earlier in the day, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France was expecting preliminary results in two weeks from a clinical test of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

"I have authorized several clinical tests in France, including that of chloroquine for several hundreds of hospitalized patients. I will report each positive or negative result," the minister said.

"We are doing everything to check if it is effective. If it's so, we will give it to French patients without delay. Within 15 days, we'll have the results of consolidated studies," he added.

Veran also said "France is preparing to test more." "After the containment's removal, it will (be) necessary to test," he said.

The government was working to equip 120 laboratories to detect the coronavirus, according to the minister.

France has been under lockdown since Tuesday. Only journeys for professional reasons, the purchases of basic necessities or essential health and family needs are allowed. Non-compliance with the rules risks a fine of 135 euros (144.37 U.S. dollars).

More than 22,000 fines were issued for breaking lockdown rules on Sunday, bringing the total fines to 91,824 since the containment went into force early this week, said Alain Thirion, Director General of Civil Security and Crisis Management, adding over 1.3 million checks have been carried out so far.

Thirion added any recurrence of non-compliance within 15 days risks a fine of 1,500 euros and four violations in 30 days will become an offense punishable by a fine of 3,700 euros and six months in jail.

The new measures came after the National Assembly approved on Sunday an emergency health bill, which empowers the government to restrict people's movement and requisition certain goods and services over a period of two months.

In Paris, the popular promenades along the Seine river, the lawns of Les Invalides and the Champ de Mars park around the Eiffel Tower were closed during the weekend.

Rivera city of Nice, Perpignan and Beziers in southern France has imposed from Saturday a curfew in response to many people defying the government's recommendation to strictly respect social distancing. (1 euro = 1.069 U.S. dollar) 

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