French prime minister Jean Castex visited the French territory of Guiana in South America on Sunday amid relatively high levels of Covid-19 in the territory which borders Brazil .
The territory now accounts for around 25 per cent of new cases reported in France, although only 0.5 per cent of the French population live in the overseas department which borders Brazil.
Public health figures say that almost a quarter of tests conducted in the territory are positive.
Castex told residents of the territory he understood that they were impatient to loosen some of the constraints still in place there. Lockdown was re imposed recently in the territory and it is still under an official “state of health emergency”, although the status has been lifted elsewhere in France.
According to figures released on Sunday, there have been 6,102 cases of the virus and 26 people have died out of a population in Guiana of around 300,000.
Hospitals under strain
There are 3 hospitals in the territory but they are at risk of being overwhelmed as staff are already dealing with a surge in cases of leptospirosis and dengue fever.25 of the Guiana's 38 intensive care beds are already currently occupied.
The Paris government has sent extra medical staff to the territory and the army has flown some patients to hospitals in the nearby French territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique, but they too are now struggling to find space for patients.
Castex and Health Minister Olivier Véran visited a field hospital as well as a virus research unit and a food distribution centre. He noted that the situation had begun to improve in recent days and declared that public services had worked effectively to help lower infection rates considerably but that people must not now relax their guard.
“Our presence is testament to the support of the entire government: in this ordeal, we will not leave anyone behind,” Castex tweeted from the trip.
However Castex didn't publicly announce any specific new aid during the one-day trip, and did not meet directly with the territory's locked-down population, conferring instead with medical workers, aid workers and local officials.
Like President Macron before him in 2017, Jean Castex referred to Guiana at one point as an island. The lapse was mocked on social media.
The virus has highlighted inequalities that have long plagued territories like French Guiana, a former colony that is now considered an integral part of France and uses the euro currency.
Some 60% of its population lives below the French poverty level, and local officials and activists lament large swathes of territory without medical care and a shortage of medical professionals.