France to transfer critical coronavirus patients by train to ease hospital pressure

PARIS (Reuters) - Thirty-eight critically ill coronavirus patients will be transferred by high-speed train from the Paris area to less overwhelmed regions on Wednesday to ease pressure on the capital’s intensive-care capacity, French health officials said.

France recorded its worst daily coronavirus death toll on Monday, taking the toll above 3,000 for the first time, with the country battling to free up space in life-support units.

That has now become critical in Paris, where the number of beds in intensive care units is now practically at the same level as the number of patients.

“What is planned from the Paris region by TGV (train) is (to transport) 38 sick people,” Bruno Riou, who heads up the Paris hospitals’ crisis team, told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday.

“We’re close to knowing whether we will be able to remain under the saturation stage so the regional transfers, notably tomorrow, will be an important security valve even if it’s a small number of patients.”

France has already been shuffling patients from the east of the country, where the virus outbreak has overwhelmed hospitals, to other areas and neighboring countries. The army has been drafted to help, while 36 patients were moved to western France from the east on medically outfitted TGV trains on Sunday.

France 3 TV reported that the patients from Paris would be moved to Brittany in the country’s northwest.

“We had 200 patients in intensive care in mid-March, 1,000 on March 24 and as of today about 1,900. That shows a colossal increase in a very short space of time, which makes things extremely difficult,” said Antoine Vieillard-Baron, head of the surgical and medical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the University Hospital Ambroise Pare.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Mark Heinrich