France's top public health official Jerome Salomon has hailed the nationwide curfew imposed by the government as part of its effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
"We are in a critical period of a race against time," Salomon told the Journal du Dimanche. "But in this race against time, we have gained time thanks to restrictions and curfews."
More than 86,000 people in France have died from coronavirus since January 2020. More than 20,000 are in hospital recovering from the illness, just over 3,000 of them in intensive care units.
"On the one hand, we have a high incidence and active circulation of variants, and on the other, strong braking measures especially with the curfew," he said.
"The curfew works very well, it responds well to the problem of private gatherings. But it remains to be seen which scenario will prove the most effective."
Salomon's interview appeared a day into a weekend lockdown in the northern city of Dunkirk and the southern city of Nice in order to reduce spiralling rates of coronavirus infections.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Jean Castex urged police chiefs in 20 administrative departments under heightened alert for high infections to crack down on people flouting the 6pm curfew.
"Another confinement can still be avoided if everyone plays their part," Salomon said.
"If everyone makes an effort and complies with the barrier measures, is tested at the slightest doubt and isolates themselves in case of contamination."
Salomon, who took up his post as director general of health in September 2018, said he agreed with the government's tougher stance following the arrival of variant strains of the disease.
Castex has echoed President Emmanuel Macron's desire to avoid a third nationwide lockdown. The premier also says he wants to allow local health chiefs to decide on the fine details of their restrictions.
"We must be careful," Salomon added. "Sometimes you find a lot of the variant strain because a laboratory in a zone is going to do a lot of screening or because there has been a cluster. This is not necessarily representative of the reality of the area.
"We take immediate action depending on the territory. But the variants today concern all regions, so we have to be careful."
After Macron castigated the slow start to the country's vaccination programme, Salomon said the levels had improved with nearly three million people having received at least one dose and 1.5 million two doses.
"Lockdown, like we had last spring and fall, breaks the epidemic when it gets out of control. "It is the absolute weapon when the curve explodes. But it is a very heavy weapon and it is understandable why the government does not want to use it unless all other alternatives have been exhausted."