A partial lockdown already in place in Paris will be extended across the whole of France, President Emmanuel Macron has announced, with schools to close and travel restrictions imposed.
It means a nightly curfew and a ban on going more than 10 kilometres from home.
The measures are part of the effort to fight a third wave of COVID-19, with the country seeing tens of thousands of cases each day and hundreds of deaths.
In a televised address on Wednesday night, in which he warned “the epidemic is accelerating", Macron announced colleges, schools, nurseries and creches will be closed for three weeks.
“If we stay united in the coming weeks...then we will see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
The curfew running from 7 pm to 6 am remains in place.
Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday in parliament that "the third wave" of COVID-19 had arrived in France.
He said that the government would better enforce the curfew and a ban on groups larger than six meeting up in public spaces. He also said they would prohibit the consumption of alcohol in public spaces.
Many opposition politicians, meanwhile, criticised the government for waiting until the situation had worsened to increase the number of intensive care beds and issue tougher measures.
Paris hospital officials warned last week they would have to start refusing patients in need due to lack of space, a situation which provoked this response from government spokesman Gabriel Attal: “One thing is clear: France will not refuse care for any sick patients. Choosing patients is not an option.”
Parts of France already under a partial lockdown
The French president has been criticised for his reluctance to issue tougher virus measures as infections have soared in the country due to the spread of more transmissible variants.
Nineteen areas of France had been put under a partial lockdown in recent weeks, which includes a nighttime curfew. It allows people to leave their homes during the day within ten kilometres, without a justification form.
In the past day, France recorded 30,000 new virus infections and 337 deaths. An expert recently told Euronews that more younger people were now dying from COVID-19.
The total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months that the figure has been that high.
Macron on Wednesday said numbers of hospital ICU beds will be increased “in the coming days” from the current 7,000 to 10,000.
The new measures, therefore, mark a departure from the previous tactic of targeting restrictions to specific areas suffering from high case numbers.
Scientific council had called for strict lockdown in January
A report from France's scientific council of experts had laid out the argument in favour of a strict four-week lockdown during the month of February, emphasising that it would buy the country time to vaccinate faster and test for new variants.
"If the lockdown is delayed by one week, it will require one additional week to reach the objective of 5,000 infections," the scientific council pointed out.
They warned that if virus infections were not stemmed "we risk being faced with epidemic peaks similar to those observed in March-April and November 2020."
They said that in countries with high levels of the more transmissible variants, the only way to reduce infections was through a tough lockdown.