By John Irish and Matthias Blamont
PARIS (Reuters) – Hospitals in Paris are scrambling to find more intensive care beds, ventilators and medical staff ahead of an expected spike in the number of coronavirus patients in coming days, with the figure expected to peak in April, doctors said on Friday.
Coronavirus cases in Paris and its suburbs now account for about a quarter of the 11,000 cases across France, and has about 250 now in intensive care, up from just 50 five days ago. The death toll in all France as of Friday evening stood at 450.
“We are working at full speed to ramp up the number of intensive care beds,” Antoine Vieillard-Baron, head of the surgical and medical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the University Hospital Ambroise Pare, told a conference call with reporters.
“The peak of the epidemic is expected at the start of April, but it’s not precise and we are expecting a flood of sick people this weekend and next week,” he said.
Officials have been desperately trying to get people off the streets in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
Police on Friday banned people from the banks of the River Seine, grassy areas around the Eiffel Tower and some other popular areas. They also stepped up spot checks after some food markets remained busy and Parisians continued to stroll or jog in the streets and parks.
“We are in an exceptional situation where the organization of our hospitals is totally disrupted. We know this war will last several weeks, if not more,” said Remi Salomon, doctor and representative of the Paris public health system.
The officials said they were looking to double Paris’ intensive care capacity to about 1,000 beds by this weekend, including 600 for coronavirus patients.
The Paris hospital system has ordered an extra 186 ventilators to add to the about 1,000-1,400 it already has available.
Doctors said they also expected to have to find space in hospitals for some of the Parisians who fled the capital to second homes in the provinces to escape strict new confinement rules imposed in Paris by the government four days ago.
“Given .. the estimate that about 17 percent of Parisians left Paris (for the provinces), we are potentially expecting to recover patients in our beds,” Vieillard-Baron said.
Highlighting the difficulties frontline medical personnel risk, some 345 health workers have so far tested positive for the virus in the Paris region and two are now in intensive care.
This, and long working hours for staff, would mean drafting in other medical personnel from across different hospital units.
“It will be necessary to organize not only our equipment capacities but to have enough personnel for these capacities,” said Martin Hirsch, director general of the Paris hospitals system, adding they were in a race against time to be ready.
(Reporting by John Irish and Matthias Blamont; Editing by Gareth Jones)