France extends tightened coronavirus lockdowns to more big cities

'The health situation in France, alas, is continuing to worsen,' health minister says

People wearing face masks cross the street in the center of Lyon, central France, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. French authorities have placed Lyon on maximum virus alert, banning festive gatherings and requiring all bars to close. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

France is ordering more cities into tightened lockdowns and activating emergency measures for Paris hospitals as the country reels from surges in coronavirus patients.

Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Grenoble will go into lockdown on Saturday with stricter controls on restaurants, cinemas and museums, while exhibition centres will be closed.

Hospitals in Paris and its suburbs activated an emergency plan, with Covid-19 patients now filling 40 per cent of the region’s intensive care units.

"The health situation in France, alas, is continuing to worsen," Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a live broadcast.

"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."

The World Health Organisation reported a record one-day increase in global coronavirus cases on Thursday, with the total rising by 338,779 in 24 hours, led by a surge in Europe.

The continent reported 96,996 new cases, the highest total for the region ever recorded by the WHO, and France had more than 18,000 cases for the second successive day.

Health authorities ordered Paris hospitals to activate emergency measures.

"Given the pressure on emergency-room beds, I have asked medical institutions in the region to activate their emergency plan to mobilise all resources," Paris region health director Aurelien Rousseau said on Twitter.

A woman wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus stands on a pedestrian crossing, in Paris, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. French authorities have placed the Paris region on maximum virus alert, banning festive gatherings and requiring all bars to close but allowing restaurants to remain open, as numbers of infections are rapidly increasing. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Mr Veran said: “The health pressure is becoming greater and greater in Paris hospitals, and in the Paris region, forcing the deferral of care."

The government will make it easier for businesses to access aid, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, adding that the government would offer support as long as the crisis lasts.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has repeatedly opposed a new general lockdown.

France reported 18,129 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with the weekly pace of infections picking up for a sixth day.

In Paris, authorities closed bars, swimming pools and event spaces for two weeks, limited gatherings and made public mask wearing mandatory.

Marseille was placed on maximum-alert status last month, prompting hundreds of restaurant and bar owners to protest against the closure of their businesses.

The number of intensive-care patients in Paris because of the virus has tripled since the start of September.

Covid patients in intensive care have also tripled in regions including Marseille and Toulouse.

The alert level in two more cities, Toulouse and Montpellier, may be raised to the maximum by Monday if virus figures do not improve in coming days, Mr Veran said.