UK (Sky News)

Coronavirus: France reels as deaths pass 10,000

By April 24, 2020 No Comments

The number of people who have died in France after contracting coronavirus has swept past 10,000.

Across the nation, a total of 10,328 have now died with COVID-19, a rise of 1,417 in the past 24 hours.

A nation that had begun to hope it had got some kind of a grip on the coronavirus pandemic is now confronted by the fact that deaths are still rising at a ferocious pace.

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The nervousness is felt everywhere. In the big cities, the industrial towns, but also in the quiet corners of the land, like Cornimont.

At another time it would be a location straight out of a tourist brochure, a beautiful old village with cobbled streets and a handsome church at the heart of a sunlit valley in the east of France.

But it is far too quiet here. Even by the standards of France, a country with strict lockdown rules, Cornimont has the feel of a ghost town, where people walk past in a hurry, heads down, clutching the piece of paper that explains why they are out of their homes.

This region, Grand Est, has seen more than 2,000 deaths attributed to coronavirus.

Many of the roots of France’s pandemic can be traced back to towns in this region, and its effect is already evident. There is a nervous skittishness here.

Cassandra Thiebaut is a care worker who visits elderly residents in their homes in and around the village. She stops off at the bakery shop between visits, a mask covering much of her face.

She has contracted the virus, so have many of the residents. One of her clients has died.

“You just have to get on with it,” she says. “But even with all the hygiene precautions we take, these people are fragile and all it takes is one mistake, and then things deteriorate rapidly.”

Cornimont has good reason to know about that fragility of life. Drive out of the village for just a couple of minutes and you come to the Couarôge nursing home, a sweeping, rounded building that is set on a vantage point that looks out across the valley.

There is space for 115 people in this home. Over the past month, 25 of the residents have died as the virus swept through it, passing from one person to another.

We talk to the manager, Sophie Vinel, in front of the entrance. She says the speed with which coronavirus infected the home was overwhelming. Those with symptoms were isolated but, in some cases, it became obvious that they would not survive.

At one care home in the village, 25 residents have died
Image:At one care home in the village, 25 residents have died

Families were not allowed to visit until death was imminent. Even then, loved ones had to wear full protective suits as they came to the bedside for the final hour or so.

“It is so hard, so tough to see so many residents taken by this virus,” says Ms Vinel. “For the staff to see so many deaths. We just cannot believe it.”

Behind her, through the window, we can see a frail man shuffling across the home’s main living area. He picks up the latest copy of the local newspaper and, reading each word, draws his finger down the list of deaths. It is a long, painful process.

The French health ministry spent weeks announcing the number of people who had died of the virus in hospital, but pointedly failed to include those who had died in care homes in its official statistics.

Now, the statistics have changed in a stark, bleak way. Thousands of deaths, at homes like Couarôge, have now been added.

For Cornimont, and other villages like it, this is a crisis that will leave death, illness and fear in its wake. And also a chronic sense of unease. Here, as in the rest of the world, they will wonder when this virus will return.

“How will our village, and the entire country, pick itself up after this?” says the mayor, Marie-Joseph Clement.

“Even globally. How will we ever recover? I just don’t know.”

In the background, a siren is sounding – an ambulance. Another ambulance, once again breaking the peace of a village that wonders if it will ever be the same again.


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