Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 April 2020

Coronavirus: France evacuates victims on specialist medical train

President Emmanuel Macron said the country is ‘at war’ as he visited the worst affected region

French President Emmanuel Macron wears a face mask during the visit of the military field hospital. AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron wears a face mask during the visit of the military field hospital. AFP

France on Thursday began evacuating on a special medical train coronavirus victims from a north-eastern blackspot.

A special train carrying virus patients to the west of France has also been announced as the region's healthcare system buckles.

It has already mobilised its military to support overstretched public services as the country’s coronavirus death toll passed 1,300.

President Emmanuel Macron said his country is “at war” and the military will aid France’s population. The army will also be withdrawn from fighting ISIS in Iraq.

Helicopter carriers have been deployed to France’s overseas territories, and have transported the sick on military planes and an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea.

"Unity and courage will allow us to overcome this; we are only at the beginning, but we will hold out," he said after visiting Mulhouse in eastern France, a region particularly hard hit by the virus and where a military hospital has been built.

Mulhouse has a large Muslim population and last month, during a visit to the city, Mr Macron announced a curbing of a programme that allowed foreign countries to send imams to France to combat fears of “separatism”.

Only the area surrounding French capital Paris has seen more deaths that the Grand Est region, where Mulhouse is located. Hospitals in neighbouring Germany and Switzerland, where impact of the virus has not been felt as hard, have allowed patients from eastern France in for treatment.

There have been claims the outbreak in Mulhouse can be traced back to an evangelical church gathering attended by hundreds in February. Even the local newspaper has been forced to add extra obituary pages, the Associated Press reported.

Mr Macron has been accused of not locking down the country quick enough, but hit back in Mulhouse at those “who would fracture the country, when we should have one obsession: to be united to fight the virus”.

The military field hospital outside the Emile Muller Hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France. AFP
The military field hospital outside the Emile Muller Hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France. AFP

He has also promised a “massive” new investment plan for public hospitals, after years of cost cuts in France’s renowned health care system that have complicated efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the Grand Mosque of Lyon also was lit up specially on Wednesday evening. A prayer read out from the minaret requested support for hospital staffs and workers keeping other public services running during the nationwide health emergency.

The head of the mosque praised those “who, despite the gravity of the health situation, are fighting with courage and humility to face down this epidemic that is touching all the French people."

Metro and rail services in Paris and its suburbs will be cut to a minimum as part of the nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Both Paris transport operator RATP and national rail group SNCF have already sharply reduced services since the home confinement orders came into effect on March 17. They apply to all but essential employees and those who cannot work from home.

Police are carrying out checks at stations to prevent unnecessary travel.

Paris airports operator ADP said it would temporarily shut Orly airport, the main domestic hub, to commercial flights because of the "significant and sudden" drop-off in passenger traffic because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

"Yesterday passenger traffic at Orly was down 92 per cent and down 89 per cent at Charles de Gaulle," the main Paris international hub, said ADP's managing director Edward Arkwright.

Updated: March 26, 2020 09:11 PM

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