Twenty-three French regions are now under coronavirus high alert and subject to stricter lockdown regulations. The daily number of Covid-19 infections remains stable, but high. According to French Prime Minister Jean Castex, pharmacies will be allowed to administer vaccines within a month.
Pharmacies will be allowed to start vaccinating people older than 50 years who show additional health risks, as of 15 March.
Three regions were added to the zones placed on high alert, bringing the national total to 23. In his weekly press briefing on Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex called upon the authorities in the regions concerned to take the necessary steps to facilitate the lockdown. These include a ban on alcohol sales and the closure of potential meeting places.
The Ile-de-France region, covering greater Paris, is not affected by the new lockdown rules.
The Pas-de-Calais region in the north of France faces a weekend lockdown.
With more than 400 confirmed cases per 100,000 tests, the Pas-de-Calais has nearly twice the national average number of infections.
The regional lockdown will start at 8:00 am on Saturday and end at 6:00 pm on Sunday.
The French Riviera and the northern city of Dunkirk have already been placed under weekend lockdown.
The nightly curfew beginning at 6:00 pm remains in place nationwide.
Non-essential shops with a surface of more than 5,000 m2 will be completely closed.
The toughening up of measures is necessary because "the circulation of the virus has increased over the past two weeks, mainly as a result of the English strain, which represents some 60 percent of all cases," according to the prime minister.
But there's good news too: the number of daily infections increased only 1,4 percent last week, ten times lower than the 14 percent growth recorded the week before. And as a result of nationwide vaccinations "the first effects are visible," according to the prime minister.
Hospitals still under high pressure
On Wednesday, 25,156 people were hospitalised with Covid-19 symptoms - 500 fewer than the week before but still "a very high level," according to Castex. 3,657 people are in intensive care, which shows that "pressure is not relenting".
France's vaccination drive has been widely criticised as too slow compared with many other European countries.
So far 3.2 million people have received at least one dose, compared with nearly 21 million in Britain.
Castex said that the government aimed to have offered a jab to 30 million people by the summer.