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French warships to back up far-flung territories in virus fight

French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday he would be sending two warships to back up the country's overseas territories in the fight against the new coronavirus.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday he would be sending two warships to back up the country’s overseas territories in the fight against the new coronavirus.

A navy helicopter carrier will be deployed immediately to the Indian Ocean, where locals in the island territory of Mayotte fear the effects of the virus on already-burdened public services.

Another will be sent to the Caribbean in early April, Macron said after a visit to a hospital and a military field clinic in Alsace, one of the worst-hit parts of France.

The president’s announcements came shortly after General Health Director Jerome Salomon said France had now recorded 1,331 deaths of hospitalized Covid-19 patients, up from 1,100 on Tuesday.

The country has confirmed 25,233 coronavirus infections, up from 22,302 the previous day.

Macron said the military would be launching a new Operation Resilience nationwide “entirely dedicated to aiding the population and supporting the public service” in the face of the epidemic.

And he promised healthcare workers and civil servants mobilized to fight the virus additional overtime payments and bonuses.

The centrist president also acknowledged the strikes and protests that hospital staff had organized for many months prior to the virus outbreak, seeking more investment for the sector.

“More broadly, the health workers who are today fighting to save lives, often fought before now to save the hospitals,” he said, promising “a massive plan” to invest in hospitals and better reward health professionals once the epidemic was over.

“That is what we owe them, what we owe the nation,” Macron said. “This response will be profound and long term.”

Earlier, Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said up to 6,000 prisoners could be released early to reduce the health risks in overcrowded jails during the crisis.

Official figures published in January showed that more than half of France’s 70,818 prisoners were detained in overcrowded jails operating at 20 percent or more above their intended capacity.

Belloubet said prisoners with fewer than two months left to serve of their sentences could be released and kept under house arrest.

Those with fewer than six months left could have the remainder converted into community service sentences.

There would be no early release for those convicted of terrorist offenses, domestic violence, or the most serious crimes, she added.

Her comments came following a government meeting that approved a total of 25 emergency decrees in various domains.

France has already banned prison visits as part of its strict lockdown measures, leading to fears of prison riots such as those seen in neighboring Italy.

Belloubet said that measures to facilitate family phone calls had been put in place to compensate for that.

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