Paris is set to be placed on maximum COVID alert from as soon as Monday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said, a move likely to force the closure of restaurants and bars and impose further restrictions on public life.
Veran said the wider Paris region had now passed all three of the government’s criteria for being put on the highest level of alert. In the past 24 hours, the coronavirus infection rate had surpassed 250 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants.
“It is getting worse faster in Paris and its surrounds,” Veran told a news conference.
He said the government and Paris City Hall would take another look at the indicators on Sunday and act if there was no improvement. The situation, he said, was alarming in five other cities: Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse.
“The trajectory is deteriorating and this is putting stress on our healthcare system,” Veran continued, though nationwide there was no short-term risk of hospitals being overwhelmed by an influx of coronavirus patients.
French authorities reported a daily rise in new COVID-19 cases exceeding 13,000 again on Thursday. The virus has killed more than 32,000 people and infected over half a million in France.
For a city to be placed on maximum alert, the incidence rate must exceed 100 infections per 100,000 among elderly inhabitants and 250 per 100,000 among the general public, while at least 30% of intensive care beds are reserved for coronavirus patients.
In this scenario, the government last month said bars and restaurants would be shut, gyms and sports halls closed, and private celebrations such as weddings and parties limited to 30 people if held in a public space.
Restaurants and bars were shut down for two weeks from last Monday in Marseille, the Mediterranean port city at the epicentre of the second wave, prompting protests and a legal challenge, which failed.
Restaurateurs plan a protest on Friday in Paris in a bid to change the government’s approach.
Veran said there were signs of the crisis easing in Bordeaux, Nice and Marseille, where earlier rounds of restrictions were imposed before Paris.
France is now carrying out more than 1 million COVID tests each week. The government’s free-for-all testing policy, however, has put the system under huge strain, with queues snaking out of laboratories and long delays for results.
This is now improving, Veran said, with laboratories now returning 75% results within 48 hours.