Emmanuel Macron under pressure as third national coronovirus lockdown looks unavoidable

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Emmanuel Macron has defended his decision not to impose a new full lockdown and to keep schools open but warned further restrictions would probably be needed. But doctors in the worst-affected areas warn they are at breaking point and scientists are calling for tougher measures to be imposed across the country to try to stem the tide.

Reopening some businesses while the situation deteriorates is not in the country’s interest

Bruno Le Maire

The number of people in hospital with the disease rose by more than 600 in a day – the biggest jump in more than four months – as the fall-out from the European Union’s failed vaccine programme became clear.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said health conditions were worsening as a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the country and pledged “all options are on the table” to protect the public.

The health ministry today confirmed the number of patients in intensive care with COVID-19 increased by 102 to 4,974, more than the 4,919 high of mid-November but still well below a record of more than 7,000 last April.

The number of people in hospital with the virus rose by 610 to a new 2021 high of 28,322 as emergency unit doctors warned that the situation was set to get worse in coming weeks.

France also reported 360 new deaths in hospitals from COVID-19, taking the cumulative death toll since the start of the epidemic to nearly 95,000.

A group of 41 hospital doctors in the Paris region warned they might soon have to start choosing between patients for emergency treatment.

Scientists have argued that Emmanuel Macron’s partial lockdown measures targeting high-infection zones such as the French capital are inadequate faced with fast-spreading coronavirus variants.

But Mr Le Maire said France should avoid adopting stricter restriction measures for as long as it could and ruled out changing the list of shops and businesses that have been allowed to stay open despite the devastating third wave.

He said: “This list will not change. Today sending the signal that we would reopen some businesses while the situation deteriorates, it’s not in the country’s interest.”

Under restrictions in place in 19 high-risk zones, including Paris, stores allowed to stay open include those selling food, books, flowers and chocolate, and hairdressers.

Clothes, furniture and beauty shops are not allowed to open.

This has led to frustration among the so-called non-essential shop owners forced to stay closed.

The government’s commitment to keeping schools open has been called into question due to rising case numbers among students and opposition from teachers, who are threatening to walk out.

Three additional regions, including the Rhone department around Lyon, have joined other the other badly-hit regions in closing non-essential stores and restricting travel.

Police have been out in Paris, Nice and other major cities enforcing the rules.

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Mr Macron’s government is also trying to speed up a stuttering vaccination campaign.

Junior industry minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said France expects to receive 3 million doses of vaccines this week, rising to 4 million a week in a month’s time.

As of Sunday, nearly 7.8 million people had received a first dose of vaccine.

France’s COVID-19 death toll of almost 95,000 is the eighth-highest in the world.

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