PARIS (Reuters) – French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday that the coronavirus situation in France remained fragile but that for the moment there was no need for a new national lockdown.
Castex said the rate of infection had not significantly increased over the past two weeks, even if the pressure on French hospitals remained strong.
“We must stick with the current restrictions we already have in place … but the situation today does not justify a new national lockdown,” he told a news conference.
Castex acknowledged that many other countries had started their vaccination campaign more quickly than France but he said this was the result of the French government’s decision to begin with the most vulnerable people in retirement homes.
While they only make up one percent of the population, he said, they have accounted for nearly a third of the more-than 77,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
By the end of this week all retirement home residents will have been offered a first vaccine shot, with a second shot due by early March, he said.
The government aims to offer the vaccine to all adults in France by the end of the summer.
Castex said the first doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine should arrive in France by the end of the week, helping the government reach its target of four million inoculations by the end of the month.
He said France’s progressive tightening of restrictions had allowed it to keep the economy more open than some neighbours had been able to, but warned there could be no let-up and called on companies to enforce more home-working.
“Working from home is imperative whenever possible,” he said.
He also announced a three-week lockdown for the French island of Mayotte, located off the coast of Mozambique, which has been hit by the South African variant of the virus.
“It is not the time to ease up now,” he said, adding that he would not hesitate to tighten curbs on free movement if there was a spike in infections.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Richard Lough and Gareth Jones)