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French President Macron under pressure to lock down as Covid-19 hospitalizations soar

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to tighten coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday as case numbers and admissions to intensive care units soar across France, where the government has been resisting a third nationwide lockdown.

Macron will address the nation at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) as he faces growing criticism over his approach to the current Covid-19 surge. His administration has favored regional restrictions over the strict national lockdowns imposed in other European nations, against the advice of France’s scientific council.

A nationwide 7 p.m. curfew is in place, while non-essential businesses are closed and movement restricted in 19 of the 96 departments on mainland France, but there are few other measures to slow the rapid pace of infection across the country.

Macron, who is up for reelection next year, has justified the strategy by saying the country needed to consider the impacts on mental health and the economy in devising a balanced response to the third wave.

But today, more than 28,000 people are being treated in hospital for Covid-19 in France, including 5,072 in intensive care units (ICU), according to French health ministry data. It’s the first time since April last year that ICU patient numbers have surpassed 5,000.

More than 40 ICU and emergency doctors in Paris published an op-ed in the newspaper Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, warning that ICUs in the region would reach capacity in the next two weeks if restrictions were not tightened.

There are more than 1,500 patients in ICU in the Paris region alone.

The doctors wrote that they had “never experienced such a situation, even during the worst terrorist attacks in recent years,” and said there was a “glaring mismatch between needs and available resources,” in what they described as a “disaster.”

Much of Europe has struggled to contain a third wave of Covid-19, in part fueled by new variants that early studies suggest are more transmissible and possibly deadlier than previous ones. Like many European Union member countries, France has rolled out a sluggish vaccination program, as drug companies have fallen short on their delivery targets by tens of millions of vaccines.

Macron said last week that accelerating vaccination was a “national priority,” but he also admitted European nations had lacked “ambition” around vaccine procurement.

Veterinarians and dentists have been allowed to administer Covid-19 vaccines in the country since Friday in order to “speed up the campaign.” More than 7.5 million people in France, around 11% of its population, have received at least one shot of a two-dose regimen, government data shows.

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