France's coronavirus death toll exceeds Spain's again

Geert De Clercq
Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Roissy near Paris

By Geert De Clercq

PARIS (Reuters) - France's cumulative coronavirus death toll edged back above Spain's as the health ministry reported that the number of people who died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours increased by 351 or 1.3% to 27,425.

Spain earlier on Thursday reported 217 new deaths, taking its toll to 27,321. France's toll first jumped over Spain's on Tuesday, but dipped below it on Wednesday.

France has the world's fourth-highest death toll after the United States (85,092), Britain (33,614) and Italy (31,368). Brazil, whose casualty rate is climbing quickly, has the sixth most deaths with 13,149 fatalities.

The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in France increased by 622 to 141,356 on Thursday, up 0.4% and the eighth consecutive day that the case tally rose by about half a percentage point or less.

Probable cases in nursing homes rose by 188 to 37,514 and the total of confirmed plus probable cases rose by 810 to 178,870, the seventh-highest in the world. The cumulative number of deaths in nursing homes rose above 10,000 for the first time.

"The COVID-19 epidemic remains active and the virus is still circulating in France," the ministry said in a statement on the fourth day after lockdown ended.

France saw its slowest increase in the infection rate on Sunday, the last day of the 55-day lockdown, when the number of confirmed infections went up by 209 (or 0.3%), which was the lowest since well before the lockdown started on March 17.

At the peak of the epidemic on March 31, France recorded 7,578 new infections in 24 hours. The government had made ending the lockdown conditional on the infection rate falling below 3,000 new cases per day.

Between March 23 and April 11, France on average counted nearly 4,000 new infections per day and the infection rate did not fall below the 3,000 threshold until after a month of strict nationwide lockdown.

The health ministry also reported that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 infection fell by 608 to 20,463 on Thursday and the number of people in intensive care fell by 129 to 2,299.

Both numbers - key indicators for the French health system's ability to cope with the epidemic - have been on a downtrend for four to five weeks and peaked at over 32,000 and over 7,000 respectively in early to mid-April.

France on Thursday announced a 18 billion euro (£15.6 billion) support package for its virus-hit tourism industry, which accounts for almost 8% of gross domestic product and attracted nearly 90 million foreign visitors last year.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Toby Chopra and Lisa Shumaker)