The French prime minister has raised the possibility of a second lockdown as the number of coronavirus infections continues to rise.
A day after the UK government enforced quarantine measures on Spain, Jean Castex told the Nice-Matin newspaper that a new lockdown could not be ruled out, but stressed that the government’s priority was “prevention”.
“What we must avoid above all is a general lockdown,” he said. “Such a measure breaks the spread of the epidemic, certainly, but it is catastrophic on an economic and social level, including for the psychological health of some of our fellow citizens.”
He said France would strive to avoid a national lockdown but may impose “localised lockdowns” in areas where infections surge.
Mr Castex, who was nicknamed “Mr Deconfinement” because he oversaw France’s phased exit from lockdown starting in May, said there was still time for the French to stem the increase in new infections.
“There are simple things to do and not to do, which are called barrier gestures, until the day when a vaccine is discovered.”
Face-masks are compulsory in shops and other indoor or enclosed public areas in France. Patrick Pelloux, the head of France’s Association of Emergency Doctors, appealed this weekend for people to wear them all the time when outdoors. “I know young people tend to be more careless and don’t always wear face-masks when in bars. I realise it’s difficult after two glasses of rosé, but the public health message has to be: wear masks all the time when you’re out, even in the street. This is the way to halt the epidemic.”
Olivier Véran, the health minister, warned that bars may be closed in parts of France where infections spike. He appealed to the young to be more cautious.
Local authorities this weekend ordered the closure of a bar in Quiberon, Brittany, where 13 new cases and another 35 suspected infections are believed to have originated.
“Vulnerable and elderly people are still very prudent but young people are paying less attention. This is what we’re observing at celebrations and family gatherings where clusters originate… The virus isn’t on holiday. We haven’t won the war yet.”
France reported 1,130 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, marking a worrying increase after just over 1,000 new infections on Thursday and less than 1,000 the previous day. The daily average was about 500 until a week ago.
However, the prime minister sounded a reassuring note, saying: “Even if the number of cases has started increasing again, the numbers testing positive remain relatively low compared to our neighbouring countries and hospital admissions remain at a controlled level.”
More than 30,000 people have died of coronavirus in France, while the UK has reported more than 45,000 deaths.