Announcing the latest measures, the Minister of Health Olivier Véran described the epidemiological situation in France as “not good”, with cases of COVID-19 increasing throughout the country. More than 45,600 new cases have been reported in the past 24 hours, he said. The figure is up 50% from the current daily average.
The new areas are the Rhône department, including the third largest city in France of Lyon, plus Aube and Nièvre in eastern France. The new rules, which the minister described as “reinforced braking”, will apply from midnight Friday evening.
These follow the Paris region, much of northern France and the Alpes-Maritimes to the south, all of which had more restrictive measures imposed a week ago, affecting 21 million people, or a third of the population.
French people can leave their homes for unlimited periods within a radius of 10 kilometers. But people can only meet in groups of six, and travel between regions is prohibited except for urgent reasons. Most shops are closed, but there are waivers and schools remain open.
The measures are more flexible and less restrictive than a year ago, when the country’s first lockout was imposed as the new disease took hold.
The government has again given up on ordering a strict lockdown, despite an increasingly alarming situation in hospitals with an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients.
Véran defended the decision, wondering if a full lockdown would be accepted by French people “exhausted by tireless fighting for a year”. But he did not rule out tougher measures if the situation continued to deteriorate.
Describing the pressure on hospitals, the minister said 80% of planned operations should be postponed and the average age of intensive care patients was falling.
Earlier Thursday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex called on people “more than ever to stay together” in the face of an “extremely strong” third wave, during a visit to a hospital in Melun, south-east of Paris.
Asked about the availability of vaccines for health workers, Castex promised that “the doses are coming, we will have plenty of them in the weeks and months to come”.
President Emmanuel Macron has been criticized for resisting calls from medical experts in late January for a nationwide lockdown amid rising cases in favor of a nighttime curfew and other restrictions.
The government has also been accused of failing to chart the way forward – unlike the first lockdown a year ago – unlike other countries like the UK.
The United Kingdom plans to put France on its “red list”, which severely restricts travel from the country. Senior German politicians have called for an urgent meeting of the French and German governments after unconfirmed reports that Berlin is preparing to classify France as “high risk”, with consequent restrictions on cross-border travel.
Elsewhere in Europe
Poland tightens measures for two weeks over the Easter period to stem a deadly outbreak of the pandemic. The country has recorded a record number of daily coronavirus cases for a second day in a row.
The new restrictions include closing preschools, furniture stores and beauty salons, as well as limiting the number of people in churches, in an attempt to limit human contact.
In the United Kingdom, MPs agreed to extend emergency coronavirus measures by six months until September, allowing the Conservative government to retain its unprecedented powers to restrict the daily lives of citizens.
The House of Commons has also approved the government’s roadmap to gradually ease the strict coronavirus lockdown in the UK over the next three months.
GermanyChancellor Angela Merkel has waived a five-day Easter break, although a framework has been agreed to try to contain the virus. Restaurants, bars and many leisure facilities remain closed.
The country has recorded more than 75,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The country’s Center for Disease Control reported 22,657 new daily confirmed cases on Thursday, up from 17,504 new daily cases a week ago.
Ukraine reported a third consecutive daily record of deaths from the virus, with 362 people having died in the past 24 hours. The health system is struggling to cope with the pandemic in the country of 40 million people which has seen 31,000 deaths from COVID-19.
Vaccinations did not start until February 24 due to logistical problems and a strong reluctance to vaccinate. Ukraine has received only 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only vaccine available at the moment.