Paris, Nice and more than a dozen other French areas will move to a full lockdown for a month amid rising COVID-19 infections and hospital saturation in several regions, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.
Sixteen areas in the country known as départements will move to lockdown from Friday amid a third wave of infections including the entirety of the region île-de-France, including Paris, and the northern region of the country.
The Alpes-Maritimes region, where Nice is located, will also be locked down. Travel from the areas in lockdown will be banned.
In areas under lockdown, schools will remain open but high schools will be limited to half capacity as part of the measures. Non-essential shops will have to close while bookstores will be allowed to stay open in regions that are under lockdown.
During the lockdown, people will be able to walk around and play sports without any time limits but will have to have a justification form and remain within 10 kilometres of their homes.
Nationally, France will move their curfew from 6pm to 7pm from this Saturday. Castex said people should continue to remain vigilant, however.
Citing a study from the Institut Pasteur, Castex said that 29% of cases were at work. He said that half of contaminations at work were due to people going to work while symptomatic. He implored that people work from home at least four days out of five.
The French PM said the situation had worsened considerably in the country, with the UK variant now representing nearly 75% of cases.
Younger and healthier people are being admitted to intensive care, where they are being hospitalised for longer periods of time, he said.
Castex said the virus acceleration looked like a "third wave" as the country approaches nearly 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19.
"Living with the virus is to not forget that it can touch anyone at anytime. But it is to live all the same, and we can with a mask, with preventative measures...physical distancing and by aerating rooms," health minister Olivier Véran said.
Restrictions had been expected in Paris region
The new restrictions come a day after French President Emmanuel Macron travelled to a hospital in Poissy, in the suburbs of Paris, to speak with health workers. One health worker told the president that the situation was worrying with younger people being admitted to the hospital.
Macron said on Wednesday that the crisis was going to "hit very hard until mid-April," according to multiple French media.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in an interview with TV5Monde on Thursday that she felt that the two scenarios proposed by the government would be "difficult" for people.
Hidalgo said many people live in small apartments and will need to be able to walk outside in the region too.
"We cannot either reduce people to just work and go home," she said, stating that a weekend lockdown seemed "inhuman" but that she would stand by the government whatever they decide.
A complicated COVID-19 situation nationally
France had already implemented a twelve-hour curfew from January that began at 18:00 CET after which people are no longer allowed to go outside unless they have a reason such as going to or from work or a medical appointment. That curfew will move back to 19:00 CET nationally.
Infections have nonetheless remained high in the country, with a high plateau of more than 20,000 new infections over the past several weeks. That has slowly increased in the past weeks, with the country recording over 38,000 new infections on Wednesday.
Public Health France said in its latest epidemiological summary on March 11 that 66% of infections in France were due to the more transmissible UK variant. That number is now nearly 75%, Castex said on Thursday.
Throughout the country, the percentage of people in intensive care compared to the number of beds originally in place is at around 83%. In the Île-de-France region, it's at 101%, according to the French COVID-19 surveillance application Tous Anti Covid.
The government ramped up COVID vaccinations in the capital but it has not gone fast enough, many say, amid criticism of the overall European vaccination strategy.
So far, 5.5 million people in the country have received a first jab, representing about 8.3% of the total population. By summer, France hopes to vaccinate 30 million people.