A man and his child wearing a face masks walk on the empty Trocadero esplanade near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, on April 20, 2020 AFP
France on Monday announced that more than 20,000 people had now died from the novel coronavirus in the country after 547 new fatalities, even as tentative signs grew that its epidemic was steadying.
"Tonight, our country has passed a barrier that is symbolic and particularly painful," top health official Jerome Salomon told reporters.
He announced that the country's total death toll was 20,265, while welcoming new falls in the numbers in hospital and intensive care.
Salomon noted that this figure was well above the 14,000 people who died in the worst recent flu epidemic and even topped the 19,000 killed by the 2003 heatwave.
The death toll includes 12,513 people who died in hospital and 7,752 people who lost their lives in old people's homes and other nursing homes.
But he also welcomed data indicating that a person with COVID-19 in France was now infecting on average less than one other person, as opposed to three before the country went into lockdown more than a month ago.
"This is how we will manage to put the brakes on the epidemic," he said.
The number of people in intensive care infected with COVID-19 fell for the 12th day in a row, by 61 patients to 5,863.
"The fall... is being confirmed but it remains very slight," said Salomon.
Meanwhile the number of patients in hospital fell by 26 -- the sixth successive daily decrease -- to 30,584.
France has been in lockdown since March 17 in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic. But President Emmanuel Macron announced last week that the lockdown could begin to be eased from May 11.
Schools could gradually reopen then but cafes, cinemas and cultural venues would remain closed, and there could be no summer festivals until mid-July at the earliest.