France's president says he has no reason to be sorry about refusing to impose a third national lockdown earlier this year, even though surging coronavirus infections are straining his country's hospitals and more than 1,000 people with the virus are dying every week.
President Emmanuel Macron's government has stressed the importance of keeping children in school and businesses afloat as the pandemic stretches into a second year. Families of French COVID-19 victims say, however, that Macron has turned a blind eye to their suffering.
"We were right not to implement a lockdown in France at the end of January because we didn't have the explosion of cases that every model predicted," Macron said late Thursday at the end of a European Union summit. "There won't be a mea culpa from me. I don't have remorse and won't acknowledge failure."
For months, France has championed a "third way" between confinement and freedom, including a nationwide curfew and closing restaurants, museums, cinemas, gyms, many shopping malls and some other businesses. The measures kept France's infection rate steady for a while, but it's been rising markedly again this month.
France has recorded the fourth-highest number of confirmed virus cases and one of the highest pandemic death tolls with 93,378 lives lost. Intensive care units are again at or beyond capacity in Paris and several other regions because of a flood of critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Many medical workers have urged the French government for weeks to impose stronger restrictions in response to the more contagious virus variant first identified in Britain, which now is dominant form of the virus in France.
"A zero-virus situation doesn't exist, and that's true for every country in Europe. We're not an island, and even the islands who'd protected themselves sometimes saw the virus come back," Macron said. "But we considered that with the curfew and the measures we had, we could cope."