COVID-19: France R number falls below 1 – but coronavirus patient hospitalised ‘every 30 seconds’

France’s R number has fallen below 1 but the number of people in hospital has hit a new high – with the prime minister saying someone is admitted every 30 seconds.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said it would be “irresponsible” to ease the country’s strict second lockdown despite the fall in the R number.

The R (reproduction) number records the spread of the disease – if it’s above 1 it means the pandemic is growing.

“The gains (we are seeing) are fragile,” he said.

There are now 32,638 people in hospital, an increase of 737 on Wednesday, and nearly 350 higher than the peak in the first wave.

France also reported another 33,172 daily infections on Thursday – extremely close to the UK’s highest ever figure.

However, it’s far below the record of 86,852 registered in France on Saturday.

“The pressure on our hospitals has intensified enormously,” Mr Castex said, adding that somewhere in France a person with COVID is hospitalised every 30 seconds.

He gave some hope when he suggested the rules could be relaxed from the start of December – when the lockdown is due to end – if case numbers fell.

Mr Castex said shops could first be allowed to open but that bars and restaurants would have to wait longer.

However, a significant fall may be needed if that is to happen.

French President Emmanuel Macron said at the start of the lockdown that they would have to get down to 5,000 per day for the rules to be eased.

Asked if people should buy tickets ahead of Christmas, Mr Castex said it was “a bit to early to say” and also warned he would not hesitate to impose stricter measures if transmission escalated again.

France’s second lockdown is due to last a month, until 1 December.

It is stricter than the UK’s, with people only permitted, for example, to leave home to exercise for an hour a day within 1km (0.6 miles).

Everyone must carry a document justifying their excursion, which can be checked by police.

France’s tally of COVID-related deaths stands at more than 42,000 – about 8,000 fewer than the UK – but it has the highest cumulative cases in Europe at 1.86 million.

Elsewhere in Europe

  • Ireland’s deputy prime minister said he was confident the country could get rid of some of its strictest rules on schedule next month after a sharp fall in infection rates.
  • In Sweden, the country’s top epidemiologist said immunity was probably lower than thought as the country – which took a relaxed approach to COVID restrictions – saw daily deaths hit their highest for months.
  • Portugal expanded its nightly curfew and weekend lockdown – already in force in more than 100 municipalities – to a further 77 areas.
  • Catalonia restaurants bars and shopping centres will stay shut for at least another ten days.
  • A potential vaccine under development in Denmark has in early animal trials been effective against a mutated COVID strain from mink, according to a scientist working on the project.

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