PARIS • France is unlikely to lift a partial coronavirus lockdown any time soon, said a government spokesman, even if some curbs may be relaxed before Christmas.
President Emmanuel Macron and top ministers have discussed the crisis, including whether to ease some restrictions from Dec 1 "if conditions allow it", spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.
But Mr Attal insisted: "We're not at all near ending the lockdown, we're still far from it."
Declines in new infections since a second nationwide lockdown began on Oct 30 have sparked calls from business groups to let shops open as soon as Nov 27 for the "Black Friday" sales that kick off the holiday shopping season.
If not, they fear losing out to Internet giants, such as Amazon, which are expected to target stuck-at-home shoppers.
The French mayors' association AMF also called on Wednesday for a gradual reopening of shops "to avoid a rush of clients ahead of Christmas, when allowing them to resume operations will be inevitable".
But on the same day, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called on retailers - including e-commerce firms - to postpone the Black Friday marketing blitz.
President Macron himself is again expected to address the nation on the coronavirus crisis next week, in particular on the prospects for travel and family gatherings for the fast-approaching holiday break.
But officials are wary of taking a "stop and go" approach to fighting the outbreak even if the pandemic slows, since hospitals remain packed with Covid-19 patients.
The health authorities on Wednesday reported 425 coronavirus deaths in the preceding 24 hours, and a total of 4,775 patients in intensive care.
Total deaths since the pandemic began in France number 46,698.
This meant the vast majority of intensive care hospital beds available before the crisis erupted are now occupied - though the government has scrambled to make new ones available.
But the number of people in intensive care has dropped from 4,919 since Monday.
The number of daily new infections on Wednesday stood at 28,383, down from Tuesday's 45,522 and far below the 50,000 to 60,000 when Mr Macron announced the new partial lockdown last month.
However, Mr Macron said the number of daily cases must fall below 5,000 before the government could start significantly easing the latest restrictions.
So far, more than two million people in France have caught the Covid-19 disease.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA