French officials said Tuesday that tougher restrictions are looming to counter an alarming surge in Covid-19 cases as doctors warned many hospitals are just days away from being overrun with patients.
“We have to prepare for difficult decisions,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France Inter radio.
“At some point we have to make hard choices… as our neighbours have,” he said, referring to strict new measures announced for Italy, Spain and elsewhere in Europe.
The French government has been loath to impose a new lockdown that would pummel the economy even harder, and business chiefs have warned a total shutdown would force another wave of layoffs and bankruptcies.
Instead, the authorities imposed a curfew this month that now requires about 46 million people — two-thirds of the population — to be home from 9:00 pm to 06:00 am, as the number of daily virus cases has flared.
Media reports say Macron, who met on the topic with senior ministers Tuesday, might extend the curfew hours, possibly with a full lockdown on weekends, or else order targeted lockdowns for the hardest-hit regions.
Another option could be to postpone the return of students from the autumn holiday that ends this weekend, in particular to high schools and universities.
‘Out of control’
Prime Minister Jean Castex, who met political party chiefs and union leaders Tuesday, said new measures against the coronavirus spread were “indispensible” and that the entire country must be mobilised in order to “protect French lives”.
Castex will be responsible for presenting the government’s decisions to parliament on Thursday.
France on Sunday recorded a grim record of 52,010 coronavirus infections in 24 hours.
On Tuesday, it reported more than 33,400 new cases and 523 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, as well as a net increase of 74 admissions to intensive care.
This brought the overall number of people in intensive care to 2,918, over half the country’s overall capacity of 5,800.
Some hospitals have been forced to start transferring patients to less-crowded facilities.
“The outbreak is out of control,” the infectious disease specialist Gilles Pialoux at the Tenon hospital in Paris said on BFM television.
He urged the government to adopt “a drastic measure, call it a lockdown” for the entire country, despite the economic toll.
“The economy can bounce back, but you don’t bounce if intensive care fails,” he said.
More than 34,000 people have died of Covid-19 in France.
On Monday, the head of the government’s medical advisory panel Jean-Francois Delfraissy said the severity of the second coronavirus wave had taken the experts by surprise.
“This second wave will probably be worse than the first one,” he said, and warned that “many of our fellow citizens don’t yet realise what’s coming.”