People wearing protective masks stand at the Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower as France reinforces mask-wearing as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the COVID-19) across the country, in Paris, on August 28, 2020. Image Credit: REUTERS

Paris: Prime Minister Jean Castex said there would be no easing of a second COVID-19 lockdown in France for at least two weeks, with the number of people in hospital infected by the coronavirus now higher than at the peak of the first wave.

Castex said that one in four deaths in the country were due to the virus and that while the 'R' rate was now below 1 it was too early to contemplate relaxing measures.

"It would be irresponsible to soften the lockdown now," the prime minister told a news conference. "The gains (we are seeing) are fragile." The prime minister said that if the slowdown in the rate of new cases was maintained, France would pass the peak of the second wave early next week. Conversely, he would not hesitate to impose stricter measures if the spread of infections quickened once more.

The virus has killed more than 42,000 people in France.

Health authorities reported 35,879 new cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 1.86 million, overtaking Russia and making France the worst affected country in the European region.

"The pressure on our hospitals has intensified enormously," the French prime minister said.