Paris will likely move to a "maximum alert" level for COVID-19, France's health minister said on Thursday, with the government set to introduce new measures to control the spread of the virus as early as Monday if the situation does not improve over the next couple of days.
One of the measures that could be introduced in the capital is the closure of bars and restaurants, an action already taken in Marseille and Aix, cities currently designated at "maximum alert," the second to last alert level before a formal state of emergency is declared.
Health minister Olivier Véran said three key COVID-19 indicators had been hit in Paris: the city has 263 new COVID-19 cases daily per 100,000 people, 105 new cases daily per 100,000 people over the age of 65, and between 30-35% of intensive care units now treat COVID-19 patients.
Authorities will confirm the indicators in Paris over the weekend, Véran said.
It comes as France recorded nearly 14,000 new cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours and 63 deaths. In Paris, there were between 800 and 1200 new cases recorded daily last week. For weeks, the number of people being hospitalised with the virus has been rising.
During his nearly one hour speech, France's health minister explained that the virus was spreading "too fast" throughout France, stating that the country was in a "phase of worsening."
One worrying development is for every ten people in intensive care, he explained, at least three were under the age of 65.
France officially has 5,000 ICU beds available. Currently, 1,200 are occupied by COVID-19 patients — well below the 7,000 recorded at the height of the health crisis in April. At the time, the country's health authorities had scrambled to open up a total of 12,000 ICU beds.
Véran said that operating and recovery rooms could once more be requisitioned as ICU units but only "if it was necessary on a given day".
This would then impact non-urgent surgeries, many of which were reported earlier this year. Already, hospitals in Paris, Marseille and Montpellier have started "deprogramming" interventions.
The health minister called on the French population to reduce their contacts across the country, stating that the government hoped to change the predictive models that showed the situation would get worse in many major cities.
"It is still possible to have an impact on the trajectory of the virus," said Institut Pasteur epidemiologist Arnaud Fontanet at the health ministry press conference.
There are five additional cities in France that could within a week move to a higher alert level for COVID-19, authorities said.
Véran said the situation was still "worsening" in Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse.
Prime Minister Jean Castex met with several mayors and metropolis presidents in those cities earlier in the day to discuss new measures that will likely come into effect. But local authorities have pushed back on closing bars and restaurants.
A court in Marseille, nonetheless, rejected an appeal to reopen bars in the city where many protested when new measures were introduced.
Véran said on Thursday that the French government would consult with the restaurant sector about issuing more strict sanitary measures in order to keep them open in areas on maximum alert.
There was some silver lining, however, with signs of improvement in Marseille, Nice and Bordeaux.
"The measures that we take today will have an effect in 15 days. You shouldn't be discouraged," Véran said.
"Your efforts should pay off and will pay off," he added.