The French Health Ministry has asked regional health agencies and hospitals to go into "crisis organisation" from Feb. 18 to prepare for a possible surge in coronavirus cases due to highly contagious variants, Le Journal Du Dimanche reported on Sunday.
The move, which would echo measures taken in March and November 2020 when France went into national lockdowns, involves increasing the number of hospital beds available, delaying non- urgent surgery and mobilising all medical staff resources.
"This crisis organisation must be implemented in each region, regardless of the level of hospital stress and must be operational from Thursday Feb. 18," health authority DGS said in a memo cited by the newspaper.
The DGS was not immediately available for comment to Reuters.
France reported 21,231 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, slightly up from 20,701 on Friday, taking the total cumulative number in France to 3,448,617, the sixth-highest in the world.
In contrast with some of its neighbours who are struggling to control more contagious variants, France has resisted resorting to a new lockdown, hoping a national curfew in place since Dec 15, first at 8 p.m. then at 6 p.m., will contain the pandemic.
Some scientists, however, believe President Emmanuel Macron took a gamble in deciding against a new lockdown despite the threat of highly contagious variants.
At the same time, France trails behind several other European countries, such as Britain, in rolling out vaccinations.
Health Minister Olivier Veran, who noted the variant first detected in Britain accounted for 25% of confirmed new infections in France, said on Thursday the government would decide in the coming weeks whether tougher restrictions were necessary at a national level.
Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the scientific council that advises the government on Covid-19 policy, told Europe 1 radio on Saturday he feared the variant first detected in Britain could account for the majority of the cases in March.