Authorities in Marseille and Paris have criticised the latest measures imposed by the French government following a flare-up in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, denouncing a lack of consultation.
Health Minister Olivier Véran on Wednesday announced that bars and restaurants in over a dozen large cities will have to close no later than 10 pm while those in the coastal city of Marseille and the island of Guadeloupe will completely shut their doors from Saturday.
Marseille's First Deputy Mayor Benoit Payan wrote on Twitter that "all this is not serious and looks more like a political decision than credible and serious health management".
He said the government should have consulted local authorities. Payan requested the city be given 10 days to prepare.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told BFM television that she had expressed to Véran her "disagreement with the measures" which will force bars and restaurants in the French capital to close at 10 pm at the latest and called for "another method" to derail the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, the Groupement National des Independants, a union representing hospitality businesses, has called "for the immediate withdrawal of these decisions".
"Professional organisations will defend the interest of the sector in court if necessary," it warned in a statement.
'Worrying' situation in hospitals
Véran stressed as he unveiled the new restrictive measures on Wednesday evening that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is now actively circulating in over two-thirds of the country.
The toughest measures will for now only concern Marseille and Guadeloupe with bars and restaurants ordered to shut from Saturday.
The minister warned that the situation across the country had sharply "deteriorated" with the incidence rate now standing at over 94 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the R rate stuck above 1.
He also flagged that the positivity rate had jumped to over 6 per cent this week compared to 5 per cent during the previous seven days.
"The situation is also worrying in hospital wards where there are nearly 6,000 hospitalised patients," he said.
To adjust to the spread of the virus, authorities have developed a new colour-coded map — including three shades of red — with restrictive measures tailored to each colour.
Overall, the virus is deemed to be actively circulating —defined by an incidence rate of at least 50 cases per 100,000 population — in 69 or seven out of ten départements (counties)_._
In those in which the epidemiological situation is less stressed, local authorities can "take any action they deem relevant", Veran said.
The only new restrictive measure announced is a cap of 30 persons for events such as weddings.
This new category affects areas where the incidence rate is higher than 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and includes major cities including Paris, Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Nice.
Large planned events of more than 1,000 people are banned as are public and private gatherings of more than 10 people.
Bars and restaurants will have to close no later than 10 pm while gyms and sports halls will have to shut their doors.
Concerned by this category are places where the incidence rate is over 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. So far, only Marseille and the island of Guadeloupe fall into this classification.
Bars, restaurants and any shop where strict sanitary protocols cannot be respected will have to shut.
Cultural places including museums, theatres and cinemas can remain open if they continue to adhere to strict sanitary requirements as will places of worship.
'Still time to act'
Véran had highlighted on Wednesday that in the capital and in the eastern Auverge-Rhones-Alpes region — both currently at the enhanced alert level — the situation is "critical" with ICU services expected to be at capacity come mid-October if the current trajectory holds true.
In the Ile-de-France region, 1,000 people were hospitalised over the previous seven days, more than double the amount admitted in the week prior, the minister said.
COVID-19 patients now occupy 27 per cent of ICU beds vs 18 per cent last week. The rate is expected to increase to 60 per cent in mid-October and to 85 per cent in mid-November.
"This is not to scare you but to tell you that there is still time to act," Veran said, adding that the measures unveiled aim to derail the current trajectory and "protect our hospitals and intensive care units."