French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday a vast extension of the nightly curfew that is intended to curb the spiraling spread of the coronavirus in the country, saying "the second wave is here".
The curfew imposed in eight regions of France last week, including Paris and its suburbs, is being extended to 38 more regions and Polynesia starting Friday at midnight, Castex said. It is likely to last six weeks before a review, he said.
The extension means that 46 million of France's 67 million people will be under 9pm-6am curfews that prohibit them from being out and about during those hours except for limited reasons, such as walking a dog, traveling to and from work and catching a train or flight.
Hours after the prime minister announced the curfews, public health authorities reported that France had recorded more than 41,600 new virus cases, a daily high since the country began widespread testing. Figures showed France nearing one million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with 999,043 as of Thursday evening.
"In France, like everywhere in Europe, the second wave is here," Castex said at a news conference, adding that "no one is spared".
The virus is spreading less rapidly during the second wave but more extensively, the prime minister said. The number of cases of Covid-19 has doubled in France in the past 15 days.
"The situation is grave," Castex said.
The number of cases reported daily recently has floated around 30,000. However, the count leaped to a new record Thursday, when health authorities reported 41,622 cases in the previous 24 hours. More than 34,200 people have died in France since the start of the pandemic, one of the highest death tolls in Europe.
The prime minister said the national hospital bed occupancy rate is now at more than 44 per cent and that four regions, including Paris, have more than half of their intensive care unit beds filled by Covid-19 patients, including the Paris region.
Several other government ministers joined Castex at the news conference as he prepared much of the nation for a stay-at-home life after dark and the need to wear masks outdoors.
France has been using a targeted approach to curb the virus, but some of the regions to go under a curfew have yet to reach alert-level infection rates. Castex said those areas are being placed under curfew for preventive reasons.
In just one week, the infection rate per 100,000 people has climbed by 40 per cent, he said.
"The weeks ahead will be tough ... and the number of dead will increase," he said.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran called the rate at which the virus is spreading "alarming" even if it is less rapid than earlier in the pandemic. The map of areas to go under curfew shows that infections are reaching beyond big cities and into less populated or even rural areas.
The southern coast, from the Pyrenees to Nice, is to go under curfew, along with a mass of areas in the southeast and central France, as well as patches in the north, in the east and around Paris.
ICU beds represent a major challenge, he said, and scheduled operations are being delayed to free up beds. France has increased its ICU beds from 5100 to 5800 but can go quickly to 7700 beds to treat Covid-19 patients.
In another step to better track the virus, the minister in charge of data and electronic communications, Cedric O, formally announced plans for a new application that provides more information than a previous version, included the number of daily cases. When ready, it will replace the failed StopCovid app, which the prime minister recently admitted he had never downloaded.
- Associated Press