PARIS: France's coronavirus-linked death toll reached almost 26,000 on Thursday but rose less sharply than in previous days as the government confirmed it would start lifting an almost two-month-old national lockdown from Monday.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19 was up 178 or 0.7% to 25,987, the lowest rate of increase in four days.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said earlier that enough progress had been made in curbing the disease and supporting hospitals to begin easing restrictions. However, some regions including the Paris area, remain "red zones" with a more cautious end the lockdown.
France is the fifth hardest-hit country in the world in terms of fatalities, closely behind Spain, which has 26,070 coronavirus deaths.
The Health Ministry said the number of people in intensive care units fell by 186 or 5.9% to 2,961, below 3,000 for the first time since March 25.
The number in ICU - a key measure of a health system's ability to deal with the epidemic - is now well below half the peak of 7,148 seen on April 8.
The number of people in hospital with coronavirus also fell again to 23,208 from 23,983, continuing an uninterrupted three-week fall and down almost 30% from an April 14 peak of 32,292.
After a more than 4,000 jump in new confirmed cases reported on Wednesday, the increase sharply slowed to 629, for a total of 137,779.
A ministry spokeswoman told Reuters the sharp rise in cases 24 hours ago was due to the fact health authorities added cases tracked by a third private testing laboratory to the tally. France's tally of confirmed cases now includes data from hospitals and the three biggest private testing labs.