“The epidemic has not reached its peak,” the French health ministry said in a statement that announced that Touraine has put into operation the Orsan plan to tackle it on a national scale.
The plan is designed to tackle exceptional health crises and mobilises general practitioners in an attempt to discourage people going to hospitals’ emergency services, provides extra hospital beds and beefs up staffing in overtaxed insititutions.
Earlier emergency doctors sounded the alarm over a “critical health situation” in France’s hospitals and representative François Brain said that hospitals were as overcrowded as in the 2003 heatwave, in which 15,000 people died, many of them elderly.
More than two million people have already had flu this winter, with over-65-year-old worst affected, according to an official monitoring body.
There were 245 new cases were taken into intensive care last week, bringing the number of serious cases recorded since 1 November to 728, of which 72 have died.
Marisol encouraged people to seek vaccination, although US health authorities last month warned that mutations of the virus mean that it is only 23 per cent effective.