France registered 26,788 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, down sharply from the 2021 high of 31,519 recorded last week Wednesday, but admissions to intensive care hit a 2021 high, with increasing numbers of younger patients.
The seven-day moving average of new cases dropped by 676 to 21,272 but remained above 21,000 for the eighth day in a row and the total number of cases rose to 3.81 million.
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The week-on-week increase remained just above four percent, a growth rate that has been steady since early January and far below week-on-week rises of more than 20 percent seen before and during the second nationwide lockdown in November.
The total number of people in hospital with COVID-19 fell slightly to just over 25,000 on Wednesday, but the number of patients in intensive care rose by another 51 to 3,637, a new 2021 high and the highest since the end of November.
During the worst period of the first lockdown in spring 2020, French hospitals saw several days with more than 7,000 COVID-19 patients in ICU, while during the second lockdown the ICU tally peaked at just below 5,000.
Several emergency room doctors interviewed in French media in recent days have said the new influx of patients into their units is speeding up and that new patients are getting younger as most people in retirement homes have now been vaccinated.
The government has said that bringing down the number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care below 3,000 is one of the preconditions for easing the coronavirus curfew.
The health ministry also reported that the cumulative death toll of the virus had risen by 322 to 87,542.