France’s coronavirus death toll ‘much higher’ than official data, says hospitals chief

Frédéric Valletoux, the president of the French Hospitals Federation, told France Info radio: “We only know the data provided by hospitals. The increase in the official data is already major, but the absolute numbers would no doubt be effectively much higher if we aggregated what is happening in retirement homes as well as the people who die at home or who are not counted.

France had nearly 26,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday and the fifth-largest number of virus-related deaths in the world at more than 1,300.

The head of the country’s public health service Jérôme Salomon said earlier this week that authorities would soon be able to tally retirement home deaths, which is likely to result in a huge increase in registered fatalities.

French media have reported dozens of coronavirus deaths in retirement homes this week, though privately run homes have been reluctant to share data.

M Valletoux added it was tricky to say when the growth rate of new infections and deaths would ebb and whether France was indeed running about eight days behind Italy, the world’s hardest-hit country.

He said: “Confinement and testing procedures are very different in the two countries, even between regions in Italy.

“We do not know when the peak will come, but we are still in the ascending phase.”

In France, which entered a nationwide coronavirus lockdown on March 17, the number of new cases grew at an average rate of 26 percent per day throughout March, but on Tuesday the rate had slowed to an average 15 percent.

He also said that the number of new infections was difficult to compare with other countries as, unlike most of its neighbours, France has not been testing all suspect cases.

He said: “We don’t have the means to test everyone … Italy tests way more people, and the Germans test 10 to 20 times more people than us.

But M Salomon said earlier this week France would soon be able to carry out up to 10,000 tests a day.

The French government has warned that the virtual lockdown imposed to restrict the spread of the flu-like infection could last up to six weeks.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told TF1 television on Monday: “A lot of citizens want normalcy to return, but it’s not happening soon.”

The French, who are under strict stay-at-home orders, can only go outside to buy food, go to work, seek urgent medical care or for brief exercise.

Those on the move must be able to justify their journey on a printed ministry document, including pedestrians.

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