PARIS (Reuters) - French hospitals cannot avoid the impact of the rapidly spreading coronavirus epidemic, the health minister said on Saturday.
The spread of the virus in France has accelerated rapidly in recent weeks, with the total number of confirmed infections exceeding one million on Friday.
"The serious cases arriving in our hospitals today are the result of infections that happened 15 days ago," Health Minister Olivier Veran said after visiting a hospital in Marseille.
"Taking into account the spread of the epidemic today, we know that whatever we do, in 15 days we will see the consequences of these infections," he said.
Two weeks ago, France was registering about 20,000 new daily infections with about 20 people entering intensive care units per day. On Friday, 122 people were admitted to ICU.
Infection rates have increased since the summer, with the seven-day average of daily confirmed cases at over 10,000 at the end of September, compared with about 5,000 at the end of August. By mid-October the seven-day average of daily cases was at 20,000 and is now almost 30,000.
The number of patients in intensive care units now stands at 2,441, compared with about 400 at the end of August.
"The progression of the epidemic is not over. We still have hard times ahead of us," said Prime Minister Jean Castex.
An overnight curfew in Paris and eight other major cities was extended on Friday to large parts of rural France. The lockdown, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., will now cover 46 million people, or more than two thirds of the population, and will remain in place for six weeks.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Mike Harrison)