Prime Minister Jean Castex said it would be “irresponsible” to ease the country’s second strict lockdown despite the drop in the R number.
The R (reproduction) number records the spread of the disease – if it is greater than 1, it means that the pandemic is increasing.
“The gains (that we are seeing) are fragile,” he said.
There are now 32,638 people in the hospital, an increase of 737 on Wednesday, and almost 350 more than the peak of the first wave.
France also reported on Thursday 33,172 other daily infections – very close to the UK’s highest figure ever.
However, it is way below the record 86852 recorded in France on Saturday.
“The pressure on our hospitals has intensified dramatically,” Castex said, adding that somewhere in France a person COVID is hospitalized every 30 seconds.
He gave some hope when he suggested the rules could be relaxed from early December – when the lockdown is due to end – if the number of cases drops.
Mr Castex said stores might be allowed to open first, but bars and restaurants would have to wait longer.
However, a significant drop may be required for this to occur.
French President Emmanuel Macron said at the start of the lockdown it would have to drop to 5,000 a day for the rules to be relaxed.
Asked about the possibility of buying tickets before Christmas, Mr Castex said it was “a little too early to tell” and also warned that he would not hesitate to impose stricter measures if the transmission was increasing again.
France’s second lockout is expected to last a month, until December 1.
It is stricter than that of the UK, with people only allowed, for example, to leave their homes to exercise for one hour a day within 1 km (0.6 miles).
Everyone must have a document justifying their excursion, which can be checked by the police.
The number of COVID-related deaths in France stands at more than 42,000 – around 8,000 less than in the UK – but it has the highest cumulative number of cases in Europe at 1.86 million .
Elsewhere in Europe
- Ireland’s deputy prime minister said he is confident the country could get rid of some of its toughest rules on time next month after infection rates drop sharply.
- In Sweden, the country’s leading epidemiologist said immunity was likely lower than previously thought because the country – which has taken a relaxed approach to COVID restrictions – has seen daily deaths peak for months.
- Portugal has extended its nighttime curfew and weekend lockdown – already in place in more than 100 municipalities – to 77 other areas.
- Catalonia’s restaurants, bars and shopping centers will remain closed for at least ten additional days.
- A potential vaccine under development in Denmark has been shown to be effective in early animal trials against a Mink COVID strain, according to a scientist working on the project.