PARIS (Reuters) - France's Health Ministry has asked regional health agencies and hospitals to enter "crisis organisation" to prepare for a possible surge in coronavirus cases as a result of highly contagious variants, Le Journal Du Dimanche reported.
The move, which would echo measures taken in March and November when France went into lockdown, involves increasing the number of hospital beds available, delaying non-urgent surgery and mobilising all medical staff resources.
"This crisis organisation must be implemented in each region, regardless of the level of hospital stress and must be operational from Thursday Feb. 18," the DGS health authority said in a memo cited by the newspaper on Sunday.
The DGS said in an emailed response to Reuters that the memo reflected an "anticipatory approach" in view of ongoing pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Its goal is to mobilise all health players in the country in case there is a flare-up in the epidemic, which can happen as virus variants circulate," it said.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm the contents of the memo cited by Le Journal Du Dimanche.
France reported 21,231 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Saturday, slightly up from 20,701 on Friday, taking the total cumulative number in France to 3,448,617, the sixth-highest in the world.
In contrast with some of its neighbours who are struggling to control more contagious variants, France has resisted a new lockdown, hoping a national curfew in place since Dec. 15 will contain the pandemic.
Some scientists, however, believe President Emmanuel Macron took a gamble in deciding against a new lockdown.
At the same time, France trails behind several other European countries, such as Britain, in rolling out vaccinations.
Health Minister Olivier Veran, who noted the variant first detected in Britain accounted for 25% of confirmed new infections in France, said on Thursday the government would decide in the coming weeks whether tougher national restrictions were necessary.
Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the scientific council that advises the government on COVID-19 policy, told Europe 1 radio on Saturday he feared this variant could account for the majority of cases in March.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Jean-Stephane Brosse; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Alexander Smith)