French health authorities reported 186 new deaths from coronavirus on Monday, taking the total to 860 in a sharp 28 percent toll rise as Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced further lockdown measures on outdoor exercise and open-air markets.
At a press conference Monday, Health Minister Olivier Véran said 2,082 people were in a serious condition needing life support, up 19 percent compared to Sunday, in another increase compared to the last three official tallies.
The latest victims included a general practitioner and a gynaecologist, bringing the number of health workers who have died from the contagion to five, Véran confirmed.
Lockdown tightens, could last weeks
The rise in coronavirus tolls came as French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said the country’s tight lockdown, originally believed to last around 15 days, could be extended by several more weeks and that his government was tightening restrictions even further.
From Tuesday, the public will only be able to exercise alone or with their children once a day, for no more than an hour, and within a kilometre of their home, said Philippe. Open-air markets would also be closed, he added.
"A lot of citizens want normalcy to return, but it's not happening soon," said Philippe. "We feel the lockdown measures we have taken, and which we will toughen yet again... could last several weeks."
Philippe refused to rule out localised curfews but said the decision for those lay with local authorities. Several are already in place, including in the southern city of Nice on the Mediterranean coast.
"We do not want to put a national curfew in place. But we told prefects to get in touch with mayors who deem (a curfew) necessary. And we will not hesitate, where necessary, to take tougher measures, meaning curfew measures," the prime minister said.
Anti-malaria drug not on market for coronavirus treatment
Philippe also echoed Health Minister Véran's statement that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine would not be put on the market for mass use against coronavirus until more testing had been done.
Earlier Monday, Véran noted that in the absence of any conclusive data, he will be issuing an order to “regulate the use of hydroxychloroquine outside the traditional marketing authorisations, which will therefore be accessible to hospital medical teams who wish to use it".
There are as yet no vaccines or treatments approved against coronavirus but trials are under way in the United States and Europe to see whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent, or reduce the severity of, the illness.
French hospitals began testing the anti-malarial and three other drugs on Sunday, research institute Inserm said, as part of a European programme involving 3,200 COVID-19 patients.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)