(CN) – Britain and France are having their worst days in a coronavirus pandemic with both countries reporting huge death tolls on Tuesday and officials warning the bleak weeks are ahead.
“We are still in a phase of a pandemic that has worsened,” French Health Minister Olivier Véran told BFM TV, a French broadcaster, on Tuesday.
Following the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken in intensive care on Monday after he contracted the virus, it was up to Foreign Minister Dominic Raab to provide the worst death rate in Britain at a press conference late Tuesday.
He reported 786 new deaths, increasing the total number of British deaths to 6,159, the fifth highest in the world. Raab said Johnson is in stable condition.
“I am sure he will succeed because if there is one thing I know about the prime minister, he is a warrior,” said Raab.
In France, 597 new hospital deaths were announced, bringing the total to more than 10,300, the fourth worst in the world after Italy, Spain and the United States. On Monday, France reported the worst daily number of deaths with 833 deaths.
This death toll, as reported by other countries, is considered partial because many people who died in homes and care facilities were not included in the number of deaths, often because the victims were not tested for the virus. France, however, has reported deaths in hospitals and nursing homes.
In Italy, the number of deaths and new infections has dropped over several days, indicating the worst may be over. It seems that Spain may also reach its peak. However, the number of daily deaths in both countries remains a major disaster and health experts warn that deaths will continue to grow over the coming days and weeks.
On Tuesday, Spain reported 743 more deaths and the number of Italian victims rose by 604. In Italy, 17,127 people had died and Spain had recorded 13,798 deaths.
Italian officials are growing more optimistic that the national lockdown for a month is producing results. The number of new infections rose more than 3,000 on Tuesday, a continuation of the downward trend.
“Eventually we are beginning to see a decline in the number of new cases,” said Gianni Rezza, director of communicable diseases at the national health agency. “If we put it on the epidemiological curve we will see that after the plateau phase there is descent.”
However, he warned that the virus had serious risks even when fewer people contracted it. “Naturally, we must be very careful and keep in mind that this virus will still exist in the population,” he said. “Even if we go down to zero in case we can’t give everyone freedom, we have to engage in a difficult fight.”
Milan, the financial capital of Italy and a city at the epicenter in the country, proved to be a very encouraging sign for Italian authorities. In Milan, there are less than 100 new infections, a milestone in the city’s path to recovery.
With the crisis in France deepening, French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to deliver his third speech on television this week and he is likely to announce an extension to the nationwide closure, which will end on April 15, French media reported. Britain is also expected to extend its lockdown.
Public confidence in the handling of the Macron pandemic has declined, according to a poll by ELABE, a French research company.
At first, Macron was hesitant to impose restrictions on France and he was criticized for allowing city elections to be held on March 15. Only two days later, he put France under national lockdown.
On March 13, 59% of respondents in the ELABE poll said that they trusted Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to deal with the outbreak. But in a recent poll, trust in their leadership has declined by 41%. However, Macron enjoyed his ranking rise, which was very bad before the pandemic with only about 29% of French people declaring their beliefs.
Macron’s main competitor to the presidency, right-wing Marine Le Pen leader, relentlessly attacks the president in handling the crisis and has questioned whether the government is hiding information from citizens.
When deaths escalated in France and warmer weather arrived, Parisians were told Tuesday that outdoor training would not be allowed to begin on Wednesday between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The city’s police prefect, Didier Lallement, said the restrictions were needed because too many people violated social distance guidelines over the weekend by taking to the streets to jog and gather outside.
In his speech, Macron could discuss the issue of whether the general public should wear protective masks when they are in public. Imposing the requirements for wearing a mask can be part of a strategy to lift restrictions. French officials are also considering lifting restrictions based on geography and even age.
Until now, the French government has told people that protective masks should be given to medical workers, but in recent days many officials have said that everyone should consider wearing masks in public to better resist the spread of the virus.
Several French cities – including Nice, Sceaux and Cannes – are moving forward with plans to require people in public to close their mouths or face fines. People are ordered to wear masks or cover their mouths with scarves.
On Tuesday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo added his voice to the debate and said he also thought people should wear masks, French media reported.
Around the world, there is an increasing demand for masks because people and countries see it as important in the fight against the spread of this new corona virus, which is transmitted through droplets emitted when someone coughs or sneezes. The virus can be infected by touching the surface where the droplets landed. Scientists say the virus can remain on the surface for hours and even days.
The World Health Organization has recommended the general public not to wear medical masks because it is said that they provide limited protection against infections when used alone and can give people the wrong sense of protection. The WHO says people may even be more at risk of being infected by wearing masks because people might tend to touch their faces and eyes when wearing them. WHO advises sick people and their caregivers to wear masks.
But many experts believe that the widespread use of masks in Asian countries is key in preventing the spread of the virus there. China, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong were praised for their efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
While France does not have enough masks for its 67 million inhabitants, officials say the production of protective masks is increasing rapidly. In a recent interview at the French broadcasting station TF1, Philippe, the prime minister, said producers would be able to make 10 million medical masks a week in the coming weeks. He added that 2 billion masks were expected to be sent to France at the end of June. In addition, half a million non-medical masks are produced every day, French officials say. The government says it wants the country to be independent in its mask production.
“We encourage the general public, if they wish, to wear masks, especially alternative masks that are being produced,” said Jérôme Salomon, director general of health in France.
Masks become mandatory in public in more places throughout Europe. In Lombardy, the hardest hit region in Italy, people are required to cover their mouths with masks or scarves when they are in public. Austria also requires people to wear masks when they go to supermarkets and use public transportation. Similar measures apply in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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