March 31, 2021, 5:02 a.m. ET PARIS — After more than a year of lockdowns and months of sputtering vaccination campaigns, Europe’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic suffered another setback on Wednesday when President Emmanuel Macron of France announced a new set of restrictive measures in a desperate move to halt a new deadly wave. The move imposed a third national lockdown for a month, which he had long tried to avoid.
With infections surging, hospitals crowded with patients and the virus now reaching into classrooms, Mr. Macron abandoned a three-month gamble in which he kept France open in the hope that a steady pace of vaccinations would make a lockdown unnecessary.
As the tally of coronavirus deaths relentlessly pushed close to the 100,000 mark, Mr. Macron effectively gave in to scientists and opposition politicians who have been pressing in recent weeks for a new lockdown, and added France to the list of European nations that are hunkering down again. Many of them have introduced new lockdowns in response to a wave of new cases that a slow vaccine rollouthas failed to stem.
France on Tuesday reported more than 5,000 people in intensive care units for the first time since last April, with bed shortages in hospitals in the most affected areas becoming acute. And the slow vaccine rollout has not prevented an outburst of infections, as an average of about 37,000 daily new cases have been reported over the past week.
“The outlook is worse than frightening,” Jean-Michel Constantin, the head of the intensive care unit at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, told RMC radio on Monday.
“We’re already at the level of the second wave and we’re quickly getting close to the threshold of the first wave,” he said. “April is going to be dreadful.”
New restrictions were introduced on the regional level in mid-March in an attempt to stave off a third wave of infections, affecting about a third of the population, including the Paris region. The rules forced businesses that are considered nonessential to close, ordered residents to limit their outdoor activities to places within six miles of their homes and banned travel to or from regions where infections were rising.
But as infections nonetheless stubbornly rose, pressure had been building on Mr. Macron to implement tougher measures.
Writing in Le Journal du Dimanche, 41 doctors from the Paris region warned that hospitals may soon become so many stretched that they will have to choose which patients to try to save.
“All indicators show that the current measures are and will be insufficient to quickly reverse the alarming curve of contaminations,” they wrote.
In late January, Mr. Macron made a calculated gamble of resisting a new national lockdown, hoping that his government could tighten restrictions just enough to fight back a rise in infections while people got vaccinated.
That strategy seemed to be working until mid-March, when infections rose sharply and the vaccination campaign failed to gather speed, amid the disarray of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Both political opponents and some scientists said Mr. Macron had “lost his gamble.’’
For Mr. Macron, the timing of Wednesday’s announcement was particularly significant: the introduction of yet more restrictions a year after France’s first lockdown and a year before presidential elections where voters are expected to judge his presidency on his handling of the epidemic and the vaccination campaign.
The health authorities on Tuesday said that about 8.3 million people had received at least a first shot of the coronavirus vaccine, or about 12 percent of the total population. The government plans to vaccinate 10 million people by mid-April and 30 million by the summer.
But France still lags behind some other Western countries in its vaccine rollout. Britain has vaccinated 46 percent of its population and the United States 29 percent, according to data from The New York Times.