PARIS • France is ready to institute a new national lockdown as a last resort as Europe grapples with how to contain the resurgent coronavirus.
Plans to restrict movement were ready, but France will do everything possible to avoid measures that clobbered the economy in the second quarter, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said yesterday.
Italy and Spain have also rejected stringent national lockdowns, while top German politicians quarrelled over new testing guidelines.
"The epidemic is gaining ground, and we need to intervene now," said Mr Castex said, rejecting the need for broad restrictions and adding that "this doesn't mean the situation is as serious as it was" earlier this year.
"The virus is spreading all over the country," he cautioned. "The spread of the epidemic can be exponential if we do not react quickly."
The virus' reproduction level has jumped, with infections surging in the Paris region and among young people. France's Covid-19 reproduction "R" number was now 1.4, Mr Castex told a news briefing, indicating the overall epidemic is growing.
Grandparents are being told not to pick up their grandchildren from school as the government is worried about hospitals being overwhelmed.
The French Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 5,429 new daily infections, a new post-lockdown high and a level of new infections not seen since the height of the epidemic in early April.
Wearing face masks outdoors in Paris will now be compulsory, Mr Castex said. Marseille, France's second-largest city, has also made masks mandatory everywhere and bars and restaurants have to close by 11 pm.
Europe's leaders are struggling with how to respond to the latest developments in the pandemic, and are wary of sweeping measures that could hobble recovering economies.
Warning of the risks ahead, World Health Organisation regional director for Europe Hans Kluge told a news briefing yesterday that rising infections among youth are a major risk, especially to the elderly during winter.
"The younger people are not necessarily going to die from it but it's a tornado with a long tail," he told reporters.