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France set to become fourth European country to log 100,000 COVID deaths

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By Alice Tidey
Medical workers tend to a patient affected with the COVID-19 in the Amiens Picardie hospital, March 30, 2021.
Medical workers tend to a patient affected with the COVID-19 in the Amiens Picardie hospital, March 30, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Francois Mori
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France is on Thursday expected to pass the milestone of 100,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The country recorded 297 fatalities on Wednesday, bringing the total to 99,777. Over the previous week, an average of 293 people lost their lives daily to the virus.

France will become the fourth country in Europe to have reached the tally after the UK, Italy and Russia. The US continues to have the world's highest death toll with more than 564,000 lives lost to the pandemic. It is followed by Brazil, Mexico and India.

France officially recorded Europe's first COVID-19 death on February 14, 2020, when an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died in hospital after three weeks in intensive care. Twelve days later, the death of the first French national, a 60-year-old man, was announced.

By the end of spring, and despite a strict lockdown imposed in mid-March, the country had recorded nearly 30,000 deaths.

But the second wave proved even more violent in France and was compounded earlier this year by the emergence of more transmissible variants. Since October, more than 65,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus.

A surge in cases attributed to the British variant prompted President Emmanuel Macron to announce a new hybrid lockdown on March 31. Currently, all non-essential shops across the country are closed, inter-region travel is restricted and a nationwide nighttime curfew kicks in at 19:00.

Ten days into the third lockdown, new cases reached over 43,500 on Wednesday and the country retains the fourth-highest 14-day incidence rate in the EU/EEA with nearly 802 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters on Wednesday following a Cabinet meeting that "the third wave is unfortunately not yet behind us."

"Although some signals are encouraging and show that the braking measures are working, it is still too early to see the full effectiveness of these measures at the national level. I add that the peak of hospitalizations has not been reached yet. This means that we still have very difficult days ahead of us in hospitals and intensive care units," he went on.

More than 13,600 people were hospitalised due to COVID-19 across France in the past week, including over 3,000 in intensive care units.

The government has been heavily criticised for its response to the pandemic, especially over the past few months as it delayed the implementation of the lockdown against scientific advice and as neighbouring countries were tightening the screws at home.

The slow rollout of the vaccination campaign has also been a point of contention. European Union member states launched their coordinated vaccination on December 27 but the pace of vaccination in France was much more sedate in the first few weeks than its closest neighbours.

Just 433 doses had been administered by January 1 in France compared to more than 188,000 in Germany.

The country has since caught up, with more than 11.6 million first doses administered, totalling just about 16.9 per cent of its population, on par with other EU member states. Over 4.1 million people are now fully immunised and vaccination was opened to people over the age of 55 earlier this week.

Still, just over a third of French people trust the government to take the appropriate measure against COVID-19, according to an April 6 poll by Ifop.