The number of people who have died after contracting the virus in France rose by 278 to 25,809 on Wednesday, the fifth-highest toll in the world after the US, UK, Italy and Spain. “The end of the lockdown does not mark the end of the health crisis,” M Castex, who was appointed by President Emmanuel Macron to draft the deconfinement plan, told a French Senate hearing.
“The behaviour of our citizens is the key to a successful deconfinement; to beating this pandemic. But I have observed a let-up,” he continued, amid growing lockdown fatigue.
But failure to respect coronavirus rules and restrictions once the lockdown is lifted would increase “the risk of relapse,” M Castex insisted.
“The aim is for the economy to restart,” he said, before warning that the lockdown could still be extended beyond the current May 11 deadline if the virus is still at a dangerous stage.
The number of people who have died from a coronavirus-related infection in France increased by 278 to 25,809 on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
France is currently the fifth-hardest hit country in the world after the United States, Britain, Italy and Spain.
In a sign the outbreak is waning, the number of people in intensive care units fell by 283 to 3,147 in the biggest daily fall in four straight weeks of decline. The number of virus patients in ICU is now well below half the peak of 7,148 seen on April 8.
The number of people in hospital with the flu-like infection also fell, to 23,983 from 25,775, continuing a three-week downward trend.
But despite the strict lockdown policy in place since March 17, the number of new infections in hospitals surged by 4,183 to 137,150 in the biggest single-day increase since April 14.
The government has repeatedly warned that plans to ease the lockdown hinged on the number of new infections per day dropping below 3,000.
Over the past week the average daily increase has been 1,110 cases per day.
But while the drastic stay-at-home measures have helped save tens of thousands of lives, the government is under pressure to get the economy running again as soon as possible.
France cannot afford an “indefinite lockdown,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told politicians last week, adding that people would have to “learn to live with the virus”.
Schools will progressively reopen and businesses will be free to resume operations from next Monday, though restaurants, cafés and beaches will remain closed until at least June.
It will also be compulsory to wear face masks on all public transport, in taxis and on school buses.
M Philippe is to unveil the final details of the lockdown exit strategy later on Thursday.