Emmanuel Macron is set to deliver a national address as hospitals in France are saturated with COVID-19 cases.
The French president has been criticised for his reluctance to issue tougher virus measures as infections have soared in the country due to the spread of more transmissible variants.
Nineteen areas of France are under a loose lockdown that allows people to leave their homes during the day within ten kilometres without a justification form.
Some expect that the French president, who typically delivers an address to announce more serious virus measures, could move school holidays or introduce tougher lockdown measures.
In the past day, France recorded 30,000 new virus infections and 337 deaths. An expert recently told Euronews that the daily death toll was comparable to a plane crashing every day and that younger people were now being sent to intensive care.
Infections and hospitalisations up in France
Public Health France said in mid-March infections had risen by 17% with incidence rates in some areas higher than those during the second wave of the epidemic.
French officials have been reluctant to close schools but there has been mounting pressure for them to act as hospitals across the country deal with rising intensive care admissions. A total of 100.3% of the intensive care beds that were available prior to the pandemic are now filled with COVID-19 patients nationally.
“I think schools need to close,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, citing the disorganisation of closing classes as soon as a COVID-19 case is detected.
She said in Paris 20,000 students were not in class because they were either sick or because someone in their class was sick.
“I know that this measure is not easy for families and we will be at their sides,” Hidalgo said.
Schools had remained open during France’s second national lockdown in November. The government said they hoped to reduce cases to 5,000 per day, but the goal was never met.
Scientific council had called for strict lockdown in January
A report from France’s scientific council of experts had laid out the argument in favour of a strict four-week lockdown during the month of February, emphasising that it would buy the country time to vaccinate faster and test for new variants.
“If the lockdown is delayed by one week, it will require one additional week to reach the objective of 5,000 infections,” the scientific council pointed out.
They warned that if virus infections were not stemmed “we risk being faced with epidemic peaks similar to those observed in March-April and November 2020.”
They said that in countries with high levels of the more transmissible variants, the only way to reduce infections was through a tough lockdown.
The French government opted to keep the country under a 12-hour curfew for much of the beginning of 2021. Non-essential businesses stayed open but theatres, restaurants and bars remained closed.
The current number of people in intensive care is now higher in France than it was at the peak of the second wave of virus infections in November with 4,974 people currently in intensive care.
France also has a higher 14-day incidence rate than all of the neighbouring countries.
Just 12.3% of the population — 8.2 million people — have received a first vaccination dose.