PARIS (Reuters) - The number of people in intensive care units (ICU) for coronavirus infection in France fell slightly for the first time since the start of the epidemic, but the number of people dying in nursing homes jumped by more than 50 percent over two days, health ministry data showed on Thursday.
Health ministry director Jerome Salomon said that the number of people in ICU fell by 82 or 1.1% to 7,066, five days after that number started falling in Italy, which now has 3,605 people in ICU, down from a peak of more than 4,000 six days ago.
“Our defence against this murderous epidemic is beginning to bear fruit, it is because of this that we need to continue confinement,” Salomon said at a daily video conference.
But in a sign that the epidemic is still raging through French senior citizen homes, ministry data showed that the cumulative toll there jumped by 929 deaths, or 52%, to 4,166 over two days after a technical problem prevented the registration of deaths in nursing homes on Wednesday,
Including the deaths in hospitals, up by 412 or 5% to 8,044, the total death toll rose by 1,341 or 12% to 12,210 people, the world’s fourth-heaviest toll after Italy, Spain and the United States.
The ministry also reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in hospitals rose by 4,286 or 5% to 86,334 while the number of confirmed, probable or possible cases in nursing homes rose by 513 or 2% to 31,415.
The total number of confirmed, probable or possible cases in hospitals and nursing homes - which the ministry does not report separately - increased by 4,799 or 4% to 117,749.
To estimate the number of coronavirus infections in nursing homes where patients show symptoms, France only tests a few residents.
Once tests confirm that two or three nursing home residents are infected, all the other residents are also tallied as possible cases if they show COVID-19 symptoms - acute respiratory infection and fever - or as probable cases if they have symptoms and have been in contact with a confirmed case.
A ministry official told Reuters that the nursing home numbers could increase strongly in coming days and weeks as only about half of the more than 7,000 nursing homes in France have reported their coronavirus data to the ministry.
Reporting by Geert De Clercq, Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis