France's COVID-19 death toll reached 21,856, while hospitalizations and the number of patients in intensive care continued to fall, according to the official data released by the Ministry of Health.
A total of 516 people have died in the past 24 hours. At 29,219, the number of hospitalized patients fell for the 15th consecutive day. The number of patients in intensive care also fell to 5,053. A total of 120,804 people infected by COVID-19 have been identified in France since the start of the pandemic on March 1, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.France placed the public under lockdown on March 17 to stem the spread of the virus. A gradual exit from confinement is scheduled to start on May 11.
Meeting with mayors from across the country on Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron said the relaxation schedule of the confinement rules would be specific to each region of the country, based on how hard the coronavirus outbreak had hit them, his office said.In adjusting the confinement measures, the central government will rely on the advice of local authorities. A detailed plan should be announced next Tuesday.
Macron also said the reopening of schools from May 11 would would be done on a voluntary basis. Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer had announced earlier that schools would be reopened in several stages and with much smaller classes. But questions over protective equipment and the hygiene protocol to be implemented in education establishments remained unanswered, sparking concerns and criticisms from the unions.
Macron told the mayors that citizens will be urged to wear homemade or non-medical grade face masks when using public transport, according to his office.Also on Thursday, the national statistics office INSEE said the lockdown had made the French economy function "like a person placed under anaesthesia".
"The French economy can now perform only its vital functions," said the office, adding that activity in the private sector, which makes up around three-fourths of total gross domestic product (GDP), had plunged 41 per cent overall.
Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud told BFM television that as of Thursday 10.2 million employees -- one out of every two in the private sector -- were partially unemployed, which means that their salaries are being paid by the state under the government's extended indemnity scheme introduced to weather the crisis.
Last Sunday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned of an eight per cent GDP contraction this year, while increasing the government's economic relief package to 110 billion euros (US $118.5 billion).