By Elizabeth Pineau and Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron will spare the Paris region a weekend lockdown for now, determined to keep France's economy as open as possible, even though the death rate from COVID-19 is still creeping up.
Two government sources aware of Macron's thinking said Prime Minister Jean Castex would on Thursday announce a weekend lockdown for the northerly Pas-de-Calais area, like that already imposed on the French Riviera, but not for the capital and its surroundings.
Macron is hoping to avoid another setback for the economy in the expectation that France's coronavirus vaccination programme, which has targeted the most vulnerable but been slow, will gradually reduce the numbers falling sick and dying.
"If we can avoid a weekend lockdown in Paris, we will try to do so," Macron told ministers, according to a third source. "Every weekend gained is important."
A spokesperson for Castex said that a lockdown, even if only at the weekend, should be a "last resort". The situation in Paris will be reviewed next week.
While some neighbours such as Britain and Germany have resorted to sweeping national lockdowns to fight a resurgence in the virus spurred by new variants, France has opted for a less severe nightly curfew and the closure of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.
As Britain now charts a course out of lockdown as new infections fall sharply, France has not yet turned the corner.
France registered 26,788 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday. Cases have been rising at a steady weekly rate of just above 4% since early January, although this is far below rises of more than 20% seen before and during a nationwide lockdown in November.
In Ile-de-France, a region of 12 million people centred on Paris, there were 388 COVID-related deaths in hospitals in the week to March 3, compared to 379 and 374 in the preceding weeks.
The weekend lockdown in Pas-de-Calais will remain in place for several weeks, one of the officials said.
(Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Kevin Liffey)