PARIS (Reuters) - France's new COVID-19 infections were sharply down over 24 hours on Monday, as they always tend to do at the beginning of the week, but deaths and hospitalisations linked to the disease were sharply up again.
And while the country's health director acknowledged the main French cities put under curfew mid-October were starting to see a lesser spread of the disease, he stressed the peak of the coronavirus pandemic was still to come.
"We are at a crucial moment," Jerome Salomon told a news conference, as France was already more than 10 days in its second national lockdown aimed at reining in the virus.
Salomon reported 20,155 daily new COVID-19 infections, sharply down from Saturday's record of 86,852 and Sunday's 38,619.
The Monday figure tends to dip as there are fewer tests conducted on Sundays. The seven-day moving average of new infections, which averages out weekly data reporting irregularities, stood at 48,734, the third highest on record.
With 1,807,479 confirmed cases since the outbreak of the disease, France has the fourth-highest tally in the world - it leapfrogged Russia over the weekend - behind the United States, India and Brazil.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19 infections rose by 551 to 40,987, versus 270 on Sunday and a seven-day moving average of 508, a figure that is at a 28-week high.
There were 882 more people treated in hospital for COVID-19, taking the total to 31,125, versus a seven-day moving average of 856. That means the April 14 record of 32,292 is bound to be overtaken in the coming days.
The number of patients in intensive care units was up by 151 to 4,690. For that indicator, the all-time high is 7,148, reached on April 8.
(This story has been refiled to change to 'always' from 'also' in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Alison Williams and Alistair Bell)