France sends 'medical fast train' to relocate the sick from badly-hit area in 'European first'

French put coronavirus patients on a fast 'medical train' out of overwhelmed East

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TGV trains in Montparnasse, Paris
France has sent a medical TGV to Strasbourg in the East which is overwhelmed by coronavirus cases Credit:  STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP

A special "medicalised TGV" fast train evacuates 20 patients with coronavirus from eastern France on Thursday to other less affected regions of France in what the government said was a "first in Europe".

The TGV, which left from Paris this morning for Strasbourg, was due to transport four patients per coach with a medical team including an anaesthetist-reanimator, an intern, a nurse anaesthetist and three nurses per carriage.

The train's restaurant car was turned into a medical operations centre with stretchers fixed to seats.

The patients are due to be taken to Nantes, Angers, Le Mans and La Roche-sur-Yon in the Loire.

Jean-Jacques Coiplet, health head of the least-affected region of mainland France, said the operation proved the "exemplary solidarity" of the region.

"We need to enable our health system to treat in the best conditions the greatest number of patients," said health minister Olivier Véran.

"There is space in some regions," he added, saying that "both public and private establishments are moblised".

President Emmanuel Macron visited the Mulhouse hospital as a fast train was sent to pick up sick patients Credit: SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP

"It will allow medics to take patients directly from one city centre to another to well-equipped hospitals," said Dr  Pierre Carli, head of Paris' emergency services.

The idea of a medical train first sprung up as a way of swiftly relocating wounded victims of a terror attack and was tested last year.

Until now, evacuations of coronavirus patients from eastern France, which is facing saturation, have been conducted via military helicopter and plane. On March 18, six were taken in a medicalised jet to hospitals in Marseille and Toulon.

Along with the Paris area, France's Grand Est region is the country's worst-hit, with 408 deaths, 2,722 patients hospitalised and 595 in intensive care.

President Emmanuel Macron visited the Mulhouse hospital on Wednesday to show support to exhausted staff.

With France’s health workers under round-the-clock pressure to treat patients, in Burgundy, a Michelin-starred restaurant has started serving gastronomic meals on wheels for medics at Dijon hospital.

The Chateau de Courban's chef Takashi Kinoshita has cooked up simple meals such as quiche with smoked trout and choux à la crème (cream puff) for 105 health workers. “It’s important to eat well,” he told France Inter, saying that he was going stir crazy out of the kitchen for the past ten days.

Owner Mylène Vandendriessche added: “We needed to do something useful."