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Despair in France: Soldiers build field hospital to cope with spiralling infection in hotspot

Crisis: A patient is evacuated from Mulhouse’s hospital in the Grand Est region, now the virus epicentre in France PICTURES: AP

SOLDIERS have built an emergency field hospital in one of the French regions hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak — with combat zone surgical equipment adapted to treat patients.

France now has almost 20,000 cases of coronavirus with a death toll at around 860. The eastern Grand Est, where the hospital was built, is second only to Paris for casualties.

The region is now the epicentre of the outbreak in France, which has the third highest death toll in Europe, after Italy and Spain.

Battleground: The temporary field hospital in Mulhouse consists of five tents

The temporary facility in Mulhouse has five tents, each with six beds, ready for patients this week, and will be operated by about 100 military health workers such as nurses and anaesthetists.

The Mulhouse crisis can be traced to a days-long church gathering attended by hundreds in the city late last month. Health officials say Grand Est is about one week ahead of the rest of France in terms of infection rates.

As of Monday there were nearly 4,300 cases in a region of around 5.5million people. In contrast, the area around Paris, home to more than 12million, had around 6,200 infections.

Mulhouse’s local newspaper has added extra obituary pages. And in an unprecedented move during peacetime, the army has also started evacuating critical coronavirus patients from the region with the second military airlift of patients taking place on Saturday.

Meanwhile, three German states plus Switzerland have opened up their hospitals to help ease France’s crisis.

‘Every day we have eight to 12 people who arrive. We don’t know what to do,’ said Dr Patrick Vogt, who works at the hospital in Mulhouse. ‘The epidemic is in full swing. So far, there are no signs of hope.’