Among the measures floated to try to avert a much-feared third wave of infections include expanding a 6pm curfew currently in place in 25 départements in the east to the whole country.
Most of France is still subject to an 8pm-6am curfew imposed in mid-December when a second national lockdown was lifted.
Bringing it forward by two hours would stall the “apéro effect”, said the leader of President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move party, Stanislas Guerini, referring to the French tradition of meeting up for a pre-dinner drink.
— Boris Kharlamoff (@BorisKharlamoff) January 14, 2021
France on Wednesday recorded around 23,000 new cases of Covid-19, around half the number detected in Britain on the same day but still far above the 5,000 figure the government had been aiming for by mid-December.
“About a third of the infections are in social groups and the family circle.
“It is certain that when you impact the social effect, you impact the progression of the virus, and this is particularly useful with this new variant.
“Moving the curfew to 6pm stalls the apéro effect.”
The earlier curfew has been in place in some départements since January 2nd, but health experts say it is too early to say whether it has had an effect on flattening infection rates.
“Whether or not it works, we will see,” French Health Minister Olivier Véran said.
He said: “What I know is that in all the departments which have adopted this measure, with 10 days of hindsight, the incidence rate is 16 percent, while the others have an increase of 43 percent.
“In the Grand Est region, there really is a difference with neighbouring departments.”
Véran also announced plans for mass testing of schoolchildren and teachers following preliminary findings that the new variant spreads more easily among children than previous strains.
“We have established a protocol that aims to test up to a million children and teachers per month,” he said, adding that children as young as six could be tested.
Véran said that, unlike Britain, France had no plans to close schools “at this stage” but said the government might reconsider if the share of infections caused by the mutated strain grew.
On Tuesday, he told a Senate commission that the new variant accounted for about 1 percent of infections.
The French prime minister will lead a press conference on Thursday at 6pm laying out new restrictions for the country.
Among the ideas being suggested are an extension of the curfew, a weekend lockdown or local lockdowns and increased restrictions in schools.
We will be following the press conference live here.