New man: Prime Minister Jean Castex, pictured during questions in parliament on Wednesday / © AFP
The French government said Wednesday it was girding for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases in coming months but would not respond to any new outbreak with another nationwide lockdown.
"My aim is to prepare France for a possible second wave while preserving our daily life, our economic and social life," new Prime Minister Jean Castex said in an interview on RTL television.
"But we're not going to impose a lockdown like the one we did last March, because we've learned... that the economic and human consequences from a total lockdown are disastrous," he said.
Instead any business closures or stay-at-home orders would be "targeted" to specific areas, he said.
"The coronavirus is still here," Castex warned, adding that he would travel on Sunday to France's South American territory of French Guiana, which is reeling from a surge in cases.
Officials reported 124 new cases in the territory on Tuesday, bringing the total to nearly 5,200, and the government has dispatched dozens of health workers from the mainland as well as a field hospital.
The head of France's national health agency, Jerome Salomon, said authorities were anticipating a second wave of COVID-19 cases "this autumn or this winter," depending on a seasonal impact that remains uncertain.
"What we have to understand is that the epidemic's resurgence will basically depend on our behaviour," he said in an interview with the Figaro newspaper.
Even as millions of people prepare to relax over the summer holiday seasons, Salomon urged continued social distancing and the use of face masks, "especially in crowded places and indoors."
- 'Protect people' -
Castex was named by President Emmanuel Macron last week to lead a new government tasked with orchestrating the country's recovery from its worst health and economic crisis since World War II.
Billions of euros have been promised for investments as well as measures to limit job losses in an economy expected to shrink around 10 percent this year.
"We are going to protect people, but above all we are going to invest in the ecological transformation, in our country's recovery," Castex said.
He also confirmed he had increased a proposed wage hike and budget boosts for hospital staff by around one billion euros in negotiations with unions this week, bring the total envelope to 7.5 billion euros ($8.5 billion).
But union leaders say that would lift monthly pay for nurses, technicians and others on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight by only 180 euros a month, far short of demands for a 300-euro raise.
The outbreak has killed nearly 30,000 people in France since the first cases were reported in January.