France announced a staggering 332,252 daily virus cases on Wednesday, as hospitals prepared drastic measures to brace for patient surges and the government strained to avoid a new lockdown.
With Europe’s highest-ever single-day confirmed infection count, France is facing an Omicron-driven surge that is dominating the race for April’s presidential election and increasingly disrupting workplaces, schools and public life.
But the country also has one of the world’s most-vaccinated populations, so the government is hoping the sweeping infections will not hit hospitals as badly as at the start of the pandemic, and is pushing the small minority of unvaccinated people to get inoculated fast.
The number of virus patients in hospitals has been on an upward trajectory for two months, and more than 72% of French ICU beds are now occupied by people with Covid-19.
The surge has prompted authorities to allow healthcare workers who are infected with the coronavirus to keep treating patients rather than self-isolate, to ease staff shortages at medical facilities.
Meanwhile parliament is debating a bill that would deny unvaccinated people access to restaurants, regional trains and planes and many other public places.
Health officials say it is needed to save lives and protect hospitals. French President Emmanuel Macron heightened tensions with an explosive remark that prompted widespread criticism and was seen as a campaign ploy.
The vaccine push has also prompted tensions in France’s overseas territories. Dozens of anti-vaccination protesters in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe attacked a hospital director and other medical staff following recent violent demonstrations against Covid-19 restrictions and long-running grievances.