Coronavirus: France death toll tops 6,500 as world faces critical equipment shortage

Ian Collier, news reporter

France's coronavirus death toll has risen by more than 1,000 to around 6,500 - as another 160,000 police officers were deployed to enforce the country's strict confinement laws.

The head of the country's national health agency said the steep rise in fatalities was because the figures included deaths from around 3,000 care homes for the elderly.

Worldwide, confirmed infections surged past one million and deaths topped 54,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Experts say both numbers are seriously under-counted because of the lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the extent of the crisis.

Europe's three worst-hit countries - Italy, Spain and France - surpassed 30,000 dead, or over half of the global toll.

However, there was a glimmer of hope in Italy, which has seen nearly 14,000 deaths, after a flattening of the number of new infections.

Spain on Friday reported 932 new COVID-19 deaths, down slightly from the record it hit a day earlier.

Elsewhere in Europe, officials have begun talking tentatively about how to lift lockdowns that have staved off the total collapse of strained health systems but also battered economies.

Austria said it will set out a timetable next week for what could be "a slow start-up" of closed parts of the economy.

The head of Germany's national disease control centre said he expects that any easing of the country's lockdown, which this week was extended to 19 April, will be staggered.

Meanwhile, shortages of critical equipment have led to fierce competition among buyers from Europe, the US and elsewhere.

A regional leader in Paris described the scramble to find masks a "worldwide treasure hunt".

New York governor Andrew Cuomo warned this week that New York could run out of ventilators in six days.

Donald Trump has urged Americans to wear face masks in public to help fight the spread of coronavirus - but insisted he will not follow suit because "he doesn't want to".

Despite the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the president said he had no intention of following the advice himself, adding: "I'm choosing not to do it."

The French prime minister has said he is "fighting hour by hour" to ward off shortages of essential drugs used to keep COVID-19 patients alive.

Philippe Montravers, an anaesthesiologist in Paris, said medics are preparing to fall back on older drugs such as the opiates fetanyl and morphine that had fallen out of favour because newer painkillers are in short supply.

"The work is extremely tough and heavy," he said.

"We've had doctors, nurses, care-givers who got sick, infected ... but who have come back after recovering. It's a bit like those World War I soldiers who were injured and came back to fight."

It comes as the head of the International Monetary Fund said the recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is "way worse" than the 2008 global financial crisis.

IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva described the situation as "a crisis like no other".

Ms Georgieva said 90 countries have already approached the institution for emergency financing.