Speaking after a meeting of the Defence Council, which makes decisions on Covid-related restrictions, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that a third lockdown was not a foregone conclusion, but the government remains “extremely cautious and attentive”.
With rising pressure on hospitals and fear over the spread of the variant of Covid first identified in the UK, speculation had been growing that France was headed back into lockdown.
A Friday evening meeting of the Defence Council was followed by a last-minute announcement from Prime Minister, who detailed the tightening of several rules including the closure of France's non-EU borders which he said was a “last chance” to avoid lockdown.
Police enforcement of the curfew has also been stepped up with 65,000 police checks and 6,000 fines issued on Saturday.
Wednesday morning saw another meeting of the Defence Council, and speaking after it Attal said: “The situation remains fragile.
“The variants continue to develop, they call for our full attention. There is neither a lull nor an explosion in the number of cases.
“Lockdown is not inevitable – it is our collective efforts as a country that will enable us to avoid it.
“We have to remain extremely cautious and attentive. We are engaged in a national mobilisation to avoid another lockdown. We will always take the necessary measures, but lockdown is the last resort.”
He also called for people to exercise particular caution over the February school holidays, which begin on Saturday in some parts of France.
Health minister Olivier Véran has described the situation in France as a “high plateau” – the number of cases remains high, but is not seeing rapid growth.
The average number of new cases per day in France is broadly stable at 20,000 new cases per day. When France locked down for a second time in October, cases stood at 50,000 a day, but this time there is the added uncertainty of the new variants of the virus, which health bosses fear will lead to an explosion of cases and deaths as seen in the UK.
Around one in 10 Covid cases in France are now the variant anglais.
The situation in hospitals is also giving cause for concern with 11,263 new admissions, including 1,830 in intensive care, over the last seven days – representing 64.7 percent of the country's intensive care capacity.
The intensive care capacity has seen a six percent increase over the last seven days and hospitals in some areas, including Nice, have been forced to transfer ICU patients to other areas.