French cities grappling with a resurgence of Covid-19 have announced several restrictions, including limits on partying and large events, as the country resorts to local measures to try to avoid another national lockdown.
Bordeaux and Marseille were the first two big cities to act after French prime minister Jean Castex declined on Friday to enact national rules despite warning of a “clear deterioration” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The virus is here for a few more months and we must manage to live with it without being dragged back into a logic of generalised lockdowns,” said Mr Castex, while asking local authorities to propose targeted measures for so-called “red zones”.
New infections in France were surging to more than 10,000 a day last week and both hospitalisations and deaths are slowly starting to increase, following a respite over the summer. Almost 31,000 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic.
About half the country is now above the government’s threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 people, with the Bouches-du-Rhône region surrounding Marseille hitting an incidence rate of 195, the Bordeaux region known as Gironde at 159 and the greater Paris region at 150.
Bordeaux and Marseille announced new controls to try to stop the spread of the virus as concerns mounted over young people socialising and family gatherings driving much of the rise in new cases.
Hospital capacity has started to come under strain, raising the possibility that doctors will have to begin cancelling operations to prioritise Covid-19 patients.
Marseille’s hospitals are “very close to saturation point”, said Jean-Olivier Arnaud, who heads the region’s public hospital system. He said that 139 people are currently on respirators in intensive care with Covid-19 and only 64 coronavirus-dedicated beds remain.
In response, Bordeaux and Marseille have cut the number of people that can gather in public places to 10, banned drinking outside and dance parties, extended the mandatory wearing of masks and said drinking and eating in bars is only permitted while sitting down.
The two regions have also said that they are going to increase enforcement, with new powers given to police to more quickly shut down contravening bars and restaurants.
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More buses and trams will be laid on to avoid crowding during rush hour and efforts will be made to protect older people in care homes by limiting visits.
Several large events have been cancelled, including the well-known Marseille International Fair, a trade event that was due to start this month that normally welcomes more than 300,000 people and 1,200 exhibitors.
Densely populated Paris is expected to follow with its own rules in the coming days, having already made mask wearing obligatory in public places and offices.
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