France must do everything to avoid a new coronavirus lockdown as pressure on hospitals grows, Prime Minister Jean Castex said in an interview on the Twitch website Sunday. He also urged the French public to have faith in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which some European countries have suspended amid concerns over post-jab blood clots.
The French government has so far resisted pressure from some health experts to impose a new, third lockdown in the face of rising case numbers.
Instead, it has imposed a 6pm nationwide curfew and weekend lockdowns in two regions struggling to contain outbreaks while big shopping centres have been required to close.
"We have to use all weapons available to avoid a lockdown. I've never hid it, let's vaccinate, protect ourselves, get tested," Castex said in his interview.
The health ministry reported on Sunday 26,343 new Covid-19 cases, down from 29,759 the previous day, while the number of people who have died from the virus rose by 140 to a total of 90,429.
Meanwhile, the number of people in intensive care units edged higher by 57 to 4,127, while emergency resuscitation units were running at nearly 82% of capacity, the highest since late November when France was in its second lockdown.
"The situation is not getting better, there is a higher and higher number of infections and hospitals are very burdened with many patients, whose average age is getting lower and who don't always have comorbidities," Castex said.
The government plans to transfer about 100 patients this week by air or special trains from the greater Paris region to other cities to help to ease pressure on hospitals in the capital.
'We must trust AstraZeneca'
Labour Minister Elizabeth Borne said on Sunday she had tested positive for Covid-19 and would keep working, the latest senior French official to catch the virus.
Meanwhile, France's vaccination programme has been gaining speed with the 67,134 first shots on Sunday bringing the total to 5,128,872 or 7.7% of the population, the health ministry said. Some 2,239,389 have received both injections as of Sunday.
In his Twitch interview, the French PM defended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which a growing number of European countries have suspended over concerns about post-jab blood clots.
"We must trust this vaccine and get vaccinated," Castex said, warning that the country's vaccination programme would otherwise "fall behind".
The World Health Organization, Europe's medicines watchdog, governments and experts have stressed that no causal link has been established between the vaccine and blood clotting and insisted that the shot is safe.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)