PARIS - Twenty departments in France, including the Greater Paris region, are placed under "reinforced surveillance" due to the worsening epidemic situation, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.
In the Ile-de France, Hauts-de-France, la Cote d'Azur, la Moselle and Meurthe-et-Moselle regions, "the epidemic situation and that in hospitals require the highest vigilance because the indicators are deteriorating," Castex told a weekly briefing on the coronavirus.
The country's worst-hit areas report 250 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, with the new virus variants making up half of the total positive tests, he said, adding that hospitals risk reaching a breaking point.
If COVID-19-linked figures keep surging in these zones, "braking measures" will be implemented from March 6, similar to those in force in the northern city of Dunkirk and the Mediterranean Alpes-Maritimes region, where people have to stay at home from 6 pm Friday until 6 am Monday -- on top of a nationwide nightly curfew during the rest of the week.
Moreover, checks at airports are stepped up, shopping malls larger than 5,000 square meters that don't sell food products are shut down and wearing masks outdoors is reinforced.
"We will adapt to the reality and to the target to slow down the epidemic spread," Castex said. "To date, the general situation does not allow us to consider easing measures."
To the French premier, a weekend lockdown is "the right way" as authorities "are able to act quickly and strongly... without impacting territories where the epidemic is receding or circulating less strongly."
He added that "everything must be done" to delay a possible lockdown "to which we have to resort when we cannot do otherwise".
"We have to do that wisely, at the right time," he said.
According to health authorities' data released on Thursday, a further 25,403 people in France were infected with COVID-19 within a day, down from 31,519 reported on Wednesday, the highest daily tally since mid-November 2020.
To date, France has counted 3,686,813 coronavirus infections, with 85,582 lives lost to the pandemic.
Castex hoped to see the end of the sanitary crisis by early April, for which he urged people to remain vigilant and continue their efforts to curb the virus spread, while vaccine rollout is ramped up.
As of Feb 23, over 2.6 million people in France have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the Health Ministry.
Meanwhile, 255 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 73 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Tuesday.