France is to close its borders to people arriving from outside the European Union from Sunday in a bid to stop the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the measure on Friday night after an emergency government health security meeting at the presidential palace, warning of a “great risk” from the new variants.
All those arriving from other EU countries will be required to produce a negative Covid-19 test, he said.
France will also close all large shopping centres from Sunday and limit travel to and from its overseas territories.
Mr Castex ordered increased police checks of those who violate France’s 12-hour-a-day curfew, hold secret parties or reopen restaurants in defiance of a closure order in place since October.
Virus infections, hospital admissions and deaths have been rising steadily but not sharply in recent weeks.
Many doctors have been urging a new nationwide shutdown like those imposed in several other European countries.
Mr Castex said the measures are an attempt to avoid the economic cost of a third lockdown.
Citing the economic devastation of such measures, Mr Castex said: “Our duty is to put everything in place to avoid a new lockdown, and the coming days will be decisive.
“More than ever we should do everything to respect the rules.”
Currently, more than 60% of intensive care beds are occupied by coronavirus patients. France has reported more than 75,000 deaths, the seventh highest in the world.
The Czech Republic is also banning foreigners from entering the country for non-essential reasons in an effort to contain the pandemic.
The Foreign Ministry said the ban, which becomes effective on Saturday, applies for all countries.
The exceptions to the ban include those who work or study in the country. Trips to the country to visit relatives and nursing homes, receive medical care and attend weddings and funerals are also allowed.
The ban is part of a series of new restrictive measures that are tightening the country’s lockdown.
Earlier in January, the day-to-day increase in coronavirus cases in the country was gradually declining after hitting a record high of nearly 18,000 on January 6. But the numbers did not drop enough and started to rise again this week.
The government is also worried about the potential impact of the more contagious British variant on the health system, which has been under serious pressure for months.