After Italy and Spain, France has the third highest number of recorded coronavirus deaths in the world, around 5,400, and the sixth-highest number of confirmed cases, almost 60,000. Like Italy and Spain, French hospitals are under extreme strain, lacking some medication and the equipment necessary to treat serious cases.
France was the first country in Europe to confirm a coronavirus infection, back in January. Since then, the virus has hit Italy the hardest, but it has also spread in France, first in its eastern region, which neighbors Italy, and later in the rest of the country, especially in greater Paris.
Hospitals in eastern France and in greater Paris are using ambulances, helicopters, and trains to transfer patients to other regions and to neighboring countries, including Germany, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, as they lack the structure to accommodate them. The health ministry said about 440 critically ill patients had to be transferred since March 18.
In one of those trips, earlier this week, 38 patients were moved from hospitals in Paris to the northwest region of Brittany in a high-speed TGV train that has been converted into a hospital train. The patients boarded at the Austerlitz train station and their stretchers were placed on seat tops and tied with cords, while oxygen bottles were tied to luggage racks.
With space for four patients and six medical workers per car, the trains can move dozens of patients at once, and even though they reach high speeds, acceleration and deceleration are smooth, allowing doctors to do the same delicate work they would do in a hospital.
France has doubled the number of intensive care beds to 10,000 and wants to add 5,000 more. Bruno Riou, who leads the capital’s hospital crisis team, said that being able to transfer patients, even in small numbers, is an “important security valve,” as the city nears its limit capacity of critically ill patients.