New border controls came into force in France on Sunday as part of a massive effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 and avoid another nationwide lockdown.
After a slow start to vaccinations, French health authorities reported that a million people had received coronavirus inoculations by Saturday.
But stubbornly high new rates for infections, hospitalisations and Covid deaths fuelled fears France may need another full lockdown, which would be the third, inflicting yet more devastation on businesses and daily lives.
The president of the scientific council set up to advise the government on the pandemic, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, pleaded on Sunday for a swift decision.
“It will probably be necessary to move towards confinement,” he said.
“There is an emergency… The faster you take a decision, the more effective it is and can be of limited duration,” Delfraissy added.
Starting Sunday, arrivals to France from European Union countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours.
The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January.
EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test.
Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and sea ports from other EU countries every week, according to Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.
Paris’s main international airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle set up testing centres in a terminal dedicated to intra-EU flights to allow arriving passengers who failed to obtain a test in their country of origin to get one before passing immigration.
– ‘Civic-minded’ –
On Sunday, incoming passengers seemed happy to comply.
“When I arrive in a country, the idea is not to contaminate it,” Antoine, an 18-year old Belgian, told AFP at the airport.
“It’s up to us to show that we are civic-minded,” said Claudio Barraza, a Spaniard. “I was actually surprised to learn that the test wasn’t mandatory before.”
The French health agency on Saturday reported 23,924 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, and 321 new coronavirus deaths, taking the French death toll to 72,877.
The total number of hospitalised Covid patients stood at 25,800, of whom nearly 2,900 were in intensive care.
One million people in France have received at least one anti-Covid jab, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, four weeks after kicking off the vaccination campaign, focusing first on people over 75 in care homes and health workers over 50.
Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said she was “reasonably confident” France would meet its target of vaccinating 15 million people by the end of June, adding more than 1.9 million vaccine doses had been received to date.
– ‘We will not wait’ –
Health Minister Oliver Veran meanwhile warned that if current measures, including a nationwide daily curfew starting at 6:00 pm, prove insufficient, another lockdown can not be ruled out.
“We need the curfew to show results,” Veran said.
“In a best-case scenario, we will manage to diminish the pressure of the epidemic. If not, we will not wait for the month of March before acting,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal told the France 3 broadcaster that “all scenarios are on the table”, adding that “the next few days will be decisive”.
“The next few days will be decisive,” he added, stressing a meeting of French leaders which will take place on Wednesday.
Some doctors meanwhile said that a lockdown was all but inevitable.
“We moving towards a lockdown,” said Denis Malvy, a member of France’s Scientific Council and head of the infectious diseases department in a Bordeaux hospital.
Karine Lacombe, head of infectious diseases at a Paris hospital, said: “A lockdown seems certain. The only question now is when it will happen.”
France went into lockdown twice in 2020, the first time between March and May and then October to December.