President Emmanuel Macron has warned tough new measures may be needed to contain a new wave of coronavirus in areas of France where infections and deaths continue to rise.
The French leader said on Monday “new decisions” would be taken in the coming days to rein in the further spread of the virus.
He said he had asked his government to work quickly to give “our citizens some visibility” of any new restrictions.
Parisians have been warned that the French capital, one of a number of areas of concern, is facing a new lockdown if the situation continues to worsen.
The warnings came as Macron announced France would join a growing list of countries suspending use of the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine after fears over side-effects.
The move threatens to further delay France’s already perilously slow vaccine roll-out, which has been widely criticised.
The French capital and surrounding areas have been hit by a “very violent third wave” of coronavirus, the president of the regional authority said on Monday.
Valérie Pécresse, president of Île-de-France region, which includes Paris, said the greater Paris region was now “on probation” as far as a new lockdown was concerned.
“The English variant, which is now the majority of [new] cases, is not only more contagious, it’s also more deadly,” Pécresse told French television. “Our intensive care capacity is saturated,” she added.
She said that it was for the government to decide but that nothing, including a full lockdown of the city and surrounding towns, could be excluded.
“If the measures are justified and proportionate, I will not oppose them.”
As the number of new cases rose to almost 400 in every 100,000 people in Paris – and higher is some surrounding banlieue – officials said a new patient was being admitted to intensive care every 12 minutes.
Bruno Riou, crisis medical director at the Paris public hospital authority AP-HP, said the situation was becoming “very worrying”.
“It’s not yet out of control, but it will be,” Riou told France Inter radio. “I’m hearing lots of people say that another week that goes by without a lockdown is another week we have gained. I don’t share that analysis; for me, it’s a week lost.”
This weekend, health officials began transferring patients out of intensive care departments in hospitals in the Île-de-France region to other areas with more beds.
“There are only two ways known to be efficient to deal with this epidemic today: lockdown or vaccination. And vaccinating is not going to have an effect for several months, while here we’re talking about weeks,” Riou added.
By Saturday evening, France had vaccinated just over 5m people with one does and 2.2m with two doses. The country has received more than 10.8m doses of various Covid-19 vaccines.
A study by the pollsters Ipsos for the state broadcaster France Télévisions found that half the 18-25-year-olds questioned felt “very isolated” since the beginning of the epidemic. More generally 69% said they were finding the situation very difficult to live with.
Among the most worrying figure was that 9% said they had lost their job and 7% admitted stopping their studies during the health crisis. Youngsters said they had the most difficulty because of a lack of social life, but that Covid had had very little impact on their love lives or health.
This time last year, France entered a strict three-month national lockdown that put a brake on the spread of the virus. The restrictions were lifted last autumn when schools reopened, but most other buildings and services, including restaurants, bars, museums, cinemas and gyms have remained closed since a second lockdown last October, though people have been free to move around outside the hours of a 6pm-6am curfew.