07.09.2020 Europe

Intensive care beds fill up around southern city of Marseille as Covid-19 spreads

By RFI with Mike Woods
REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
LISTEN SEP 7, 2020
REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The number of patients in intensive care beds in the area around France's second-largest city has more than doubled in less than a week and is reaching full capacity as vulnerable patients contact serious cases, hospital officials said Monday.

The coronavirus causing Covid-19 is circulating at a higher-than-average rate in Marseille and the surrounding Bouches-du-Rhone administrative department, where hospitals have seen a spike in serious cases over the past week, doctor and hospital official Dominique Rossi told media on Monday.  

“The virus is spreading very widely,” Rossi, president of the medical commission in the city's public hospitals, told RTL radio. “For the moment, we are not overwhelmed, we are managing, but we have to preserve beds” in intenstive care units, he said. 

The department has 70 intensive care beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients. As of Monday, 67 were occupied, up from 33 on the first day of the month, less than a week ago. In Marseille itself, 21 of the 25 ICU beds for Covid-19 were occupied.

“No one is in over their head,” the doctor assured in comments to AFP agency, indicating some Covid patients have been transferred to ICU beds earmarked for other uses. In total, there are 300 ICU beds in the department including 120 in Marseille. 

Rossi said the number of Covid-19 cases had been increasing since July before spiking over the past 10 days. He told RTL the rate of infection in the department was 180 cases for 100,000 people, more than triple the 50 for 100,000 people that France sets as its threshold for high vulnerability. 

“After affecting young people, the virus is once again spreading among older patients,” warned Hervé Chambost, director of emergency medicine, in remarks posted on social media.

“We're once again seeing vulnerable persons with serious cases in intensive care.”

Warnings at national level
The description matches the scenario that national health service Santé publique France (SPF) warns about in its regular bulletin on the epidemic published Sunday. 

SPF said the number of Covid tests have doubled in mainland France since early July, but the number of positive cases has gone up twelve-fold, particularly among young adults, perhaps owing to complacency towards preventative measures. 

The health agency said people aged 65 and over were more respectful about measures including physical distancing and mask-wearing, which might explain the lower rates of infection, but warned of the disease spreading in older age groups.

In the same bulletin, SPF warned rates of infection were most worrying in the Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur, the southeastern region that incluces Marseille and Nice. 

On Saturday, Bouches-du-Rhone state officials relaxed measures designed to contain the virus by extenting closing hours for bars and restaurants from 11pm to 12:30am. 

In contrast, officials extended rules for wearing face masks, mandatory in Marseille since late August, to all densely populated areas around the city. 

(with newswires)

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