French government officials on Thursday urged the country's health workers to get a coronavirus vaccine, pointing that only around 30% had received the jab so far.
"Tomorrow I will write a letter to all health workers in our country to encourage them to get the vaccine," France's health minister Olivier Véran told reporters.
"Only one health worker out of three is currently vaccinated. This is not normal and it compromises our ability to fight effectively against the virus," Prime Minister Jean Castex said.
Multiple surveys show that the French are among the most sceptical of vaccines in Europe.
Unlike in many other countries, French health workers weren't initially in the priority vaccination group.
At the start of the vaccination campaign in late December, only care homes staff and health professionals above 50 were eligible.
It is only on February 6 after the authorisation of the AstraZeneca jab that vaccination was extended to all French health workers.
Weekend lockdown extended to northern region
Castex told reporters on Thursday that weekend lockdown measures will be extended to the region around the port of Calais to counter a rise of coronavirus cases there.
"The incidence is indeed increasing very quickly", namely "by 23% over the last 7 days and now exceeds the threshold of 400 cases per 100,000 residents. That is almost twice the national average," Castex said.
Regions around Dunkirk and Nice were placed on weekend lockdowns last week to push back against a spike in coronavirus cases.
Three additional French departments (Hautes-Alpes, Aisne and Aube) were placed under increased surveillance this Thursday, putting the total at 23.
In those high-risk areas, large shopping centres of more than 10,000 m2 will be closed from Friday evening, Castex announced on Thursday.
The Paris region, which is on the list of increased surveillance departments, wasn't submitted to weekend lockdowns. The idea was floated last week by the government but drew pushback by city officials.
Vaccination campaign to speed up
The French government announced the country's vaccination campaign would speed up in the coming weeks, with the AstraZeneca jab available in pharmacies without a prescription from mid-March, Castex said.
The measure will initially target patients aged 50+ with existing health conditions and will be extended to all 50-74 by mid-April, Castex added.
France will have vaccinated at least 10 million by mid-April and at last 20 million by mid-May, the Prime Minister said.