France needs a lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise: hospital official

FILE PHOTO: People, wearing protective masks, walk in the Montorgueil street in Paris amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, February 25, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

PARIS (Reuters) - France should impose a national lockdown given the increase in COVID-19 cases and the longer it waits, the higher the death toll will be, the head of the emergencies unit at a hospital in Paris said on Friday.

The government said on Thursday that a new lockdown was not on the agenda and it would see next week if local weekend lockdowns would be needed in 20 areas considered very worrying, including Paris and the surrounding region.

"I do not understand what we are waiting for," Philippe Juvin from the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in the capital told BFM TV, adding that the situation at hospitals in the Paris area was very tense.

"As we get closer to an epidemic peak, each day spent without taking a decision comes with a heavy price," he said.

The capital's city hall has for its part pressed on with a proposal to enforce a strict three-week lockdown and then consider reopening businesses, including bars, restaurants and cultural venues that have been closed since October.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said it would study the Paris proposal, though he expressed some doubts as to how effective it would be.

Juvin cited a study showing that 13,000 lives would have been saved if France's March-May lockdown last year had come in a week earlier. The study also showed that if the lockdown had been delayed a week, the death told would have risen by 53,000.

French health authorities reported 25,403 new cases on Thursday, up from 22,501 a week ago, confirming the recent upward trend of the disease, mainly due to new variants.

The seven-day moving average of daily new cases stands at 21,452, the highest in more than three months. With 3.687 million cases reported in total, France has the six-highest tally globally and its 85,582 death toll is the seventh highest.

Unlike some of its neighbours, France has resisted a new national lockdown to control the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants, hoping that an overnight curfew in place since Dec. 15 can contain the pandemic.

"We will not avoid a new lockdown. And the longer we wait to take such a decision, the longer it will last," Juvin said.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday the government wanted to delay a possible lockdown decision as long as possible to give its vaccination campaign time to have an impact.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by David Clarke)

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