Paris and several other regions in France have tonight been plunged into a new month-long lockdown after President Macron’s hand was forced by a faltering vaccine rollout and the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said the tougher restrictions followed a clear acceleration in the spread of the coronavirus, with France now in the grip of a third wave.
‘The moment has come to go further, with more demanding restrictions where things are most critical,’ Castex told a news conference.
The lockdown will be imposed on the 16 hardest hit departments, the prime minister said, including Paris and its surroundings, as well as parts of the north. It takes effect from midnight on Friday.
Schools will stay open and people will be allowed to exercise outdoors within a 10 km (6.2 miles) radius of their homes.
People living in these areas would not be allowed to travel to other parts of France without a compelling reason.
The move comes after France on Wednesday announced its biggest daily rise in Covid cases since its most recent lockdown was lifted in late November last year.
France, like much of Europe, has been left vulnerable to a Covid third wave due to its slow vaccine roll-out that has left most of the population unprotected.
EU bureaucracy and supply issues have been blamed for much of the shambles, but it has been hampered further France’s decision to temporarily halt the use of AstraZeneca vaccines.
Paris is expected to be plunged back into some form of lockdown with measures to be announced tonight after Covid cases in France began spiking
While Covid deaths in France have been steadily falling since last year, there are fears the trend could reverse as hospital intensive care wards are overwhelmed
Paris has been at the forefront of France’s third wave of Covid, with patients evacuated from hospitals in the city on Monday after intensive care beds ran out
The move came amid fears the jab could cause blod clots, despite EU leaders, the World Health Organization and Europe’s own medical regulator saying it is safe.
The European Medicines Agency is due to give its final ruling on the safety of the jab today, and Emmanuel Macron has signalled that he is ready to ‘quickly’ resume use of the vaccine once the ruling is public.
France recorded 38,501 new cases of the virus Wednesday up from 29,975 the day before, the country’s public health body said.
The last lockdown in France began to be eased on November 28 last year, and the largest one-day rise since then was 31,519 cases recorded on February 24.
The cabinet held an emergency meeting to discuss the figures on Wednesday night, after which spokesman Gabriel Attal confirmed new measures would be imposed.
Attal said the new measures could include some form of lockdown including in the Paris region, but added that schools will not be closed.
Prime Minister Jean Castex will announce the exact measures at a press conference on Thursday evening.
France, like much of Europe, has been left vulnerable to a Covid third wave due to its slow vaccine roll-out, which has seen just a fraction of its population jabbed
France has been using weekend lockdowns in other cities in order to bring down Covid rates, and Mr Castex said on Tuesday that the same measures will be considered for Paris if the situation gets worse.
‘We are in a worrying and critical situation and, clearly, measures of the type that have been used in other parts of the territory are on the table,’ Castex said.
Paris has been at the forefront of France’s third wave of Covid as new and more-infectious variants of the virus, such as the one from the UK, take hold.
Intensive care units in the city have breached capacity in recent days, with patients having to be evacuated from the city by helicopter to nearby hospitals.
On a visit to hospital outside Paris on Wednesday, President Emmanuel Macron said any new measures would be ‘proportionate’ and be made on a territorial basis.
‘We will take the decisions that need to be taken,’ he said.
In all, just over 5.5 million people in France have had at least one vaccine shot and nearly 2.4 million have received both doses, official data show.
That is compared to 25million people in the UK who have had at least one dose of the vaccine, and 1.7million people who have had two doses.
Macron, who visited hospitals in Paris on Wednesday, said any new measures would be ‘proportionate’ and made on a territory-by-territory basis
That discrepancy led EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen to threaten to block exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than Europe.
Von der Leyen, without directly mentioning the UK, said export blocks would be used to ensure ‘reciprocity’ when it came to exports.
She then demanded that Britain hand over AstraZeneca jabs which are being used as part of its roll-out, despite the jab currently being banned across much of Europe.
It is thought there are currently 7.5million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine sitting un-used in Europe as a result of the bans.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, offered a sharp rebuke to European decisions not to use the jab, saying: ‘Vaccines don’t save lives if they’re in fridges.
‘They only save lives if they’re in arms, and that’s a really important fact.’
Ms von der Leyen’s comments today raise the possibility that stocks of Pfizer jab manufactured in Belgium could be prevented from going to Britain — although most of the UK’s AstraZeneca supplies are made in this country.