A medical staff wearing a face mask is pictured at the Saint-Jean train station in Bordeaux, France. AFP
France staged its largest evacuation of coronavirus patients to date from hospitals in the hard-hit east on Sunday, increasing efforts to free up intensive care units as officials warned of an influx of serious cases in the coming days.
Two specially equipped high-speed trains carried 36 patients from Mulhouse and Nancy to hospitals along France's western coast, where the outbreak has been limited so far.
Dozens of hospital workers, flanked by police and soldiers standing guard, spent hours installing four patients in each wagon in an operation that began before dawn.
"We have to free up beds, it's absolutely crucial.... We're still seeing an increase in patient numbers," said Francois Brun, head of emergency services at the regional hospital in nearby Metz.
The evacuations came as Germany sent a military plane for the first time to Strasbourg to transport two patients to a hospital in Ulm.
Around 80 French patients have been hospitalised in Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg, European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin told France Inter radio.
France has been evacuating dozens from the east over the past week, hoping to stay ahead of a crisis that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has warned will only worsen over the next fortnight.
Medical staff members prepare their gear at Saint-Jean train station in Bordeaux, France, on Sunday. AFP
Overall, more than 4,600 coronavirus patients are in intensive care in France, many with severe respiratory problems requiring ventilators that officials worry could soon be in short supply.
Philippe said at the weekend the government was racing to have 14,000 intensive care beds available soon, compared with just 5,000 before the outbreak began in January.
On Sunday the national health service reported 292 new coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 2,606.
The daily toll was below the 319 deaths reported on Saturday, but the figures include only deaths reported in hospitals, and not at retirement homes or assisted-living facilities.
Also Sunday the housing ministry announced it would commandeer 5,000 hotel beds to house homeless people during the crisis.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Lebanon would suspend all trips to and from Italy, South Korea, Iran and China, the hardest hit countries. It would also stop arrivals from France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, he said.
France's state-supported "StopCOVID" contact-tracing app should enter its testing phase in the week of May 11 when the country starts to unwind its lockdown, the minister said earlier this month.
French gross domestic product shrank 5.8% in the quarter from the previous three months, when the euro zone's second-biggest economy contracted 0.1%, the INSEE official statistics agency said.
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