Even as France became the first country in Europe to pass two million detected cases of coronavirus infection this week, authorities expressed optimism that weeks of restrictions on movement and social interactions were starting to slow the spread of the virus.
“Our collective efforts are starting to bear fruit,” Jérôme Salomon, a top health ministry official, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Still, French officials warned that lockdown restrictions would have to remain in place for at least several more weeks. France recorded more than 45,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 2,036,755.
The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients peaked at nearly 33,500 this week — slightly more than during the first wave last spring — and the pressure on French hospitals is still “very strong,” Mr. Salomon said.
Over 46,000 deaths have been tied to the virus in France.
France last month became one of the first countries in Europe to return to a nationwide lockdown, albeit one markedly less draconian than the measures put in place in the spring.
Public gatherings are banned, restaurants, bars and cinemas are once again closed and movement outside the home has been limited. But parks and schools are still open and a wider range of businesses are allowed to remain open.
The limits could start to be lifted next month.
The French authorities are considering allowing small businesses and shops to reopen in the run-up to Christmas. Catholic worshipers have also protested in recent days, demanding that the government relax a ban on religious services.
But officials said they would only loosen the rules if the trends remain encouraging. A government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, said at a news conference on Wednesday that while there might be an “adaptation” of the rules next month, the country was “far from” lifting the lockdown.
At the same time, officials sought to reassure the public, saying that while the road may be long and hard, the country was on the right path.
“Your efforts are starting to pay off, you must definitely not stop them,” Olivier Véran, the health minister, told the BFM TV news channel on Tuesday. “Yes it’s long, yes it’s difficult, but that’s the price to return to a normal life.”
In other news from around the world:
The “Sweden model” of very light restrictions has been the subject of fascination even as the effectiveness of the approach is still debated. But on Tuesday, King Carl XVI Gustaf captured a country dramatically shifting to deal with a sharp virus surge: “Hold on tight,” he said in a statement posted on Instagram. The government announced the strictest limitations on the country since the coronavirus first appeared and warned that there will be darker days ahead. While Sweden’s number of Covid-19 deaths still pales in comparison to those countries like Italy or Spain, it is more than 10 times higher than in Finland or Norway.
The Turkish government, facing growing public anger over its handling of the pandemic and accusations that it is hiding the true toll of the coronavirus as the number of deaths rise, announced that it would close classrooms and impose new restrictions on movement on the weekends as part of a raft of measures to slow the spread. Restaurants and cafes will only be allowed to serve takeout, and shopping malls will be forced to close at 8 p.m. Turkey has reported at least 11,700 deaths, with more than 420,000 cases of infection. Local officials and opposition politicians say the government is hiding the true death toll.
The state of South Australia will go into lockdown for six days to contain a growing outbreak. The cluster, which has been traced to a traveler quarantining in a hotel, has included 22 cases since Saturday. Starting at midnight on Wednesday, only one person per household will be able to go out each day to access essential services like groceries or medical services. Restaurants, cafes, pubs and retail stores will close, as will schools and universities. Outdoor sports and physical activities are banned, and masks will be mandatory. After the six-day lockdown, South Australia will face another eight days with fewer restrictions, details of which have not yet been announced.