France is to step up checks to ensure people are sticking to the current Covid-19 rules, as the government continues to “do everything to avoid a national lockdown”.
Prime Minister Jean Castex has called on local authorities to “strengthen surveillance”.
This includes improving adherence to the current rules, such as increased curfew checks, optimising the vaccination campaign, stepping up saliva tests, and encouraging working-from-home where possible.
In a video conference meeting with prefects and directors of regional health agencies from 20 departments across France yesterday, Mr Castex’s office said that the objective was to “do everything to avoid a national lockdown”.
In a statement, it said that the meeting had focused on "the local health situation, and initial trends that had appeared after consultations with local elected representatives”.
It added that the objective was to “adopt local measures” if necessary. Yet, there was no indication of whether new measures may be imposed in the near future.
In a Tweet, Mr Castex wrote: “The question is not if we are for or against lockdown, but to do everything we can to avoid it.
“Prefects at our video conference this morning are working hand in hand with local officials to strengthen our strategy to fight against Covid-19 area by area.”
Local checks and lockdowns
The “local strategy” approach comes after Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes, and Dunkirk and the Nord regions have already imposed weekend lockdowns - as well as the curfew in place nationwide - in a bid to stop the rapid spread of Covid-19 in the areas.
In Dunkirk and the surrounding region, local police have stepped up patrols - on foot, horse, and motorbike - to monitor adherence to the weekend rules, especially on the beaches.
People who are found to be in breach of the local lockdown risk a fine of at least €135.
One person, who received a fine, told a police officer: “The rules change every day, I didn’t know.”
A local nurse, named Coralie, told news service FranceInfo: “Finally, something [rules] had been put in place. I have to constantly remind people. I know there are families meeting up without necessarily wearing masks. We need people in Dunkirk to raise their awareness.”
Other areas may follow suit with local lockdowns and enforced rules, especially regions that are seeing high levels of Covid and variant cases, such as Ile-de-France.
In Toulouse, Haute-Garonne, the banks of the River Garonne are closed today, and will be off-limits to the public next weekend too, to avoid people gathering near the water.
It comes after the incidence of Covid cases - the number of people infected per 100,000 inhabitants - has breached the alert threshold in the city. The level is currently at 195.5 in the Haute-Garonne, and 259 for Toulouse itself.
Jean-Luc Moudenc, mayor of Toulouse, said: “We didn’t have a choice [but to close the area]. Despite a stepping up of checks on Saturday February 27, we saw no improvement in the situation.
“With the return of good weather, locals were going out on the banks of the Garonne. In itself, that isn’t a problem. Except we see people very close to each other without respecting physical distancing, and not wearing masks.”
He said: “We can see that right now, the pandemic is resurging. And it’s a resurgence with less and less respect for barrier gestures, and ill advised gatherings. So of course, that makes us think that we no longer have a choice.
"We cannot just sit there with our arms folded [doing nothing].”
France has repeatedly said it is working to avoid another national lockdown, and President Emmanuel Macron has said his overall aim is to keep the country “as open as possible”.