French must avoid lockdown as infections hold above 26,000: PM says

·2-min read
COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Nice

PARIS (Reuters) - France must do everything to avoid a new coronavirus lockdown as pressure on hospitals grows, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Sunday as the country reported more than 26,000 new cases.

The French government has so far resisted pressure from some health experts to impose a new, third lockdown in the face of rising case numbers.

Instead it has imposed a 6 p.m. nationwide curfew and weekend lockdowns in two regions struggling to contain outbreaks while big shopping centres have been required to close.

"We have to use all weapons available to avoid a lockdown. I've never hid it, let's vaccinate, protect ourselves, get tested," Castex said in an interview on website Twitch.

The health ministry reported on Sunday 26,343 new COVID-19 cases, down from 29,759 the previous day, while the number people who have died from the virus rose by 140 to a total 90,429.

Meanwhile, the number of people in intensive care units edged higher by 57 to 4,127, while emergency resuscitation units were running at nearly 82% of capacity, the highest since late November when France was in its second lockdown.

"The situation is not getting better, there is a higher and higher number of infections and hospitals are very burdened with many patients, whose average age is getting lower and who don't always have comorbidities," Castex said.

The government plans to transfer about 100 patients this week by air or special trains from the greater Paris region to other cities to help to ease pressure on hospitals in the capital.

Labour Minister Elizabeth Borne said on Sunday she had tested positive for COVID-19 and would keep working, the latest senior French official to catch the virus.

Meanwhile, France's vaccination programme has been gaining speed with the 67,134 first shots on Sunday bringing the total to 5,128,872 or 7.7% of the population, the health ministry said. Some 2,239,389 have received both injections as of Sunday.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Jean-Stephane Brosse; Editing by Edmund Blair and Jane Merriman)