PARIS (Reuters) – French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday his government was not planning a new, nationwide lockdown to contain a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, but would instead implement a raft of less radical measures.
He said these would include fast-tracked testing for priority cases to reduce the time spent waiting for results, and targeted restrictions in areas of the country hit especially hard by the pandemic.
“The virus is with us for several more months and we must manage to live with it without letting ourselves get drawn once again into a narrative of nationwide lockdown,” Castex said in a televised address.
French health authorities reported 9,843 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, beating the record for the number of new cases in a 24-hour period.
France imposed a strict lockdown in March, at the height of the epidemic’s first wave. That succeeded in preventing the hospital system from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, but also dealt a severe blow to the economy.
That lockdown was relaxed towards the start of May. Since then, the number of cases has gradually risen and the number of people sick enough with the virus to need hospital treatment has increased.
Castex, speaking after a meeting of France’s most senior officials to discuss the epidemic, said the rise in cases was particularly worrying in three areas — the cities of Marseille and Bordeaux, and the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe.
He said he had asked leaders of those regions to submit their proposals to him on Monday for local measures to contain the spread of the virus.
Local officials throughout France would have enhanced powers to impose new restrictions if they deemed it necessary, including making some businesses reduce their opening hours, the prime minister said.
Castex, who himself is in isolation after coming into contact with someone infected with COVID-19, said some French citizens had let down their guard against the disease.
They needed to be more disciplined about social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks, he said.
“I solemnly appeal today to the sense of responsibility of each one of you,” Castex said in his address.
“The only way we will succeed in stopping this epidemic is if all of us are vigilant and stick together.”
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Catherine Evans)
FILE PHOTO: French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a news conference to present his government’s economic recovery plan from the Covid-19 pandemic, in Paris, France September 3, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS