Bars will be forced to close in four more French cities after the government moved to tighten restrictions as new coronavirus infections continue to surge.
From Saturday, the cities of Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne will be designated maximum alert zones.
Similar measures have already been put in place in cities Paris and Marseille as well as the overseas department of Guadeloupe, as France battles a second wave of the virus.
The news comes as 18,129 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported on Thursday in the country — the second day the number of infections stayed above the 18,000 mark.
France topped its highest record number of cases in a 24-hour period on Wednesday with a daily tally of 18,746 cases.
At his weekly press briefing on Thursday, French health minister Olivier Véran warned cities like Toulouse and Montpellier may also have to be moved to maximum alert by next week.
“The health situation in France, unfortunately, is continuing to worsen. Every day in France, more and more people are being infected, more and more are falling ill, and more and more are suffering serious effects that require hospitalisation,” he said.
The country’s maximum alert level kicks in when the incidence rate of the virus exceeds 250 cases per 100,000 people and at least 30 per cent of intensive deva beds are reserved for COVID-19 patients.
President Emmanuel Macron had warned on Wednesday in an interview with TF1 and France 2 that further coronavirus restrictions were imminent.
“In places where it circulates too quickly, in particular where it circulates a lot among the elderly, who are the most vulnerable, and where we see more and more beds occupied in emergencies, we must move towards more restrictions, such as those we have seen for example in the Bouches-du-Rhône or in Paris and the inner suburbs,” he said.
The mayor of Lyon, Grégory Doucet, said there was no “need to go any further” with restrictions.
Speaking at a COVID-19 testing centre in the city on Wednesday, he said: “We are very, very reactive. I believe that today we have the means in the city, in Metropolitan France, to respond to the evolution of the epidemic.”
Hospitals in Paris were moved into emergency mode on Thursday with coronavirus patients taking up nearly half of the region’s intensive deva beds.
France is not the only European countrying experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases. The Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic all reported record daily case increases on Thursday.
Germany, which has been seen as one of Europe’s success stories in handling the disease, also saw its biggest daily increase in new infections since April.
German health minister Jens Spahn described the rise as “alarming” as new 4,058 cases were reported on Thursday, 1,200 more than the previous 24-hour period.