With the number of coronavirus infections continuing to rise sharply in Paris and other major French cities, and pressure mounting on hospital intensive care units, there is a growing expectation that Health Minister Olivier Véran may be forced to announce a Marseille-style total closure of bars and restaurants.
The health minister met the mayors of Paris, Lyon, Lille, Grenoble and Toulouse on Thursday morning, to discuss what can be done to slow the spread of Covid-19 infections in major French cities.
Nationwide, France reported more than 12,000 new cases on Wednesday, with 64 deaths. There are currently 1,232 people in intensive care.
The southern city of Marseille has already been placed on maximum alert, meaning that all bars, restaurants, gyms and sports centres are closed, and public gatherings limited to 10 people.
Bars in Paris, Lyon and Lille are already obliged to close at 10PM.
How the alert system works
The level of alert is established on the basis of three criteria: the overall number of infections, the number of cases among vulnerable groups, and the number of patients requiring admission to intensive care.
An area goes on maximum alert once it reports more than 250 cases per 100,000 people. Paris had 259 confirmed cases per 100,000 on Tuesday.
Older people account for the majority on those who have died in this epidemic, with 90 percent of all fatalities in the over-65 category.
The government threshold for older sufferers is 100 for every 100,000 of the population. Paris had 133 positive cases per 100,000 on Tuesday.
The only good news is the situation in regional intensive care units, estimated by French media at operating at less than 35 percent of capacity on Thursday morning. The official limit is 30 percent, but the Paris region is exceptional in having a huge number of establishments over which the load can be spread.
Paris nears maximum alert
The French capital is thus in the maximum alert category on at least two of the three decisive measures.
However, there are substantial variations in the key factors between central Paris and the suburbs, with significantly fewer cases being reported for the Ile-de-France region (which surrounds Paris) than for the city itself.
Whatever measures the health minister announces this evening, they will be valid for an initial period of 15 days.