(Bloomberg) — France passed the threshold of 3 million Covid-19 cases on Friday, as an acceleration in the spread of the virus prompted warnings from the government that a third lockdown is possible.
Confirmed cases rose by 23,292 on Friday to 3.01 million, less than a year after the country reported its first infection. The seven-day rolling average of new cases, which smooths out fluctuations, has been climbing most of January to reach 19,759 from just over 13,000 at the start of the month.
France’s second lockdown that began in late October reversed a spike in Covid-19 cases, but hospitalizations and intensive-care patients remain more than five times higher than in August, keeping pressure on the health system. As more contagious variants of the virus spread, Health Minister Olivier Veran has said a decision on another lockdown or tighter curbs could be made within days or weeks.
“This crisis isn’t letting up, and France is paying a heavy price for it,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said on a visit to the port city of Le Havre on Friday.
While France’s situation appears less critical that that of some of its neighbors, “a lockdown would probably become an absolute necessity” if new infections follow the same path as in the U.K., Veran told senators on Thursday.
Hospitalizations rose to 25,908 on Friday, the highest in about six weeks, while patients in intensive care also rose, to 2,912. Deaths linked to the virus increased by 649 to 72,647.
France added an additional million new Covid cases in a little over two months, after infections doubled to 2 million during a three-week span in October and November. The country has ramped up diagnostic capacity after initial criticism of a slow start, and is now testing close to two million people a week.
The country’s vaccination campaign is also picking up speed, after the government was also lambasted for the slow roll out and initial narrow range of the population that was eligible. Health-care staff vaccinated 130,790 people on Thursday, from about 71,000 a week earlier.