France is now in its fourth wave of COVID-19, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday.
Castex said the 18,181 new cases recorded in the 24 hours to Tuesday afternoon represented a 140% jump on the previous week and claimed that 96% of these new infections were observed in unvaccinated people.
"We are in the fourth wave," Castex told TF1 news. "The infamous Delta variant is here, it is here, it is the majority (of cases) and what characterises it from those that preceded it is that it is much more contagious.
"We must react and at the same time, the key is known, it is not completely new but the contagiousness of this Delta variant obliges us even more, we must vaccinate," he said.
His television address comes as the COVID-19 health pass — attesting the holder has either been fully vaccinated, tested negative over the previous 48 hours or recovered from the disease over the previous six months — is being made mandatory to visit leisure and cultural venues.
A bill planning for the health pass requirement to be extended to bars, restaurants, shopping centres and long-distance public transport from early August is currently being debated by French MPs.
The measure was announced last week by President Emmanuel Macron in a bid to boost vaccinations which had slowed in June. The announcement led to demands for vaccination surging by three million, according to Castex, but also prompted demonstrations across the country.
Protesters say the measure is "liberticidal". Many were condemned however for drawing a comparison between the measure and the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime.
"We will be intractable with those who, for the sake of their ideals, which I absolutely do not share, resort to acts of violence, draw comparisons or refer to the yellow star or the Shoah, attack parliamentary offices, set fire to vaccination centres," he warned.
To meet the increased demand for vaccinations, Castex said, the government is making an additional five million doses available before the end of the month.
More than 37.8 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine in France — 56% of inhabitants — and 30.8 million are fully inoculated.
The government announced earlier this week that it would meet its target to administer 40 million primo-vaccinations by the end of July — a month earlier than planned — and now tables 50 million first injections by the end of August.
"This is a very ambitious goal, but it also shows that we have understood the seriousness of the situation," Castex said.
Finally, he highlighted that although additional measures at the national level have not been decided to tackle the recent surge in infections, prefects have the power to impose restrictions at the local level.
These include face masks requirements, the early closures of businesses receiving people and cancellations of events.
Prefects in two départements — Pyrenees Orientales and Haute Corse — have done so in recent days after their incidence rate climbed to 372 and 380 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Nationally, the incidence rate on July 17 stood at 84 infections per 100,000 population.