French President Emmanuel Macron denied allegations that his handling of the coronavirus pandemic was devolving into authoritarianism.
He said the French fight against Covid-19 was a democratic effort and that his critics were trying to score political points.
“Never before in our history was a crisis of such magnitude fought in such a democratic way,” Mr Macron said.
As he rebuffed accusations of dictatorialism on Wednesday, he called for people to get vaccinated and said the highly contagious Delta variant remained dangerous.
“The health crisis is not behind us, very clearly. We will live for several more months with this virus,” he said.
“We exceeded the 9,200 hospitalisations for Covid at the start of the week, a level we had not reached since June. The bar of 1,600 patients has also been crossed."
Mr Macron said France was facing two threats – one on the domestic front from the Delta strain and one in its overseas territories, such as Guadeloupe and Martinique, where case numbers are rising among a less widely vaccinated population.
“I wanted us to be able to bring together this Health Council because under the effect of the variant known as Delta, the health situation is more than delicate and requires our mobilisation,” he said.
His comments follow a fourth consecutive weekend of demonstrations in major French cities against ‘health pass’ measures making access to restaurants, museums and most places of entertainment conditional on proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test.
Some protesters say the new rules encroach on civil liberties and fear the health pass, introduced as a temporary measure, will become a permanent requirement.
But there has been increasing vaccination take-up since it was announced in July and two thirds of French citizens age 12 and over are now fully vaccinated, government data shows.
While vaccination rates are high in France, infections are increasing sharply in many of its territories.
About 20 per cent of people age 12 and above are fully vaccinated in the West Indies, a “cruel proof” that shows the shots are the most efficient tool against Covid-19, Mr Macron said.
“Today, we thus face a situation, especially in Guadeloupe and Martinique, that is dramatic,” the president said. Hospitals were already overwhelmed in the two territories, he said.
At least 100 intensive care beds are needed for Guadeloupe, the Minister for Overseas Territories Sebastien Lecornu said on Tuesday.