French PM Jean Castex has announced tough new Covid-19 border restrictions, but has again resisted imposing a new nationwide lockdown.
From Sunday all but essential travel from outside of the EU will be banned. Testing requirements from inside the EU will also be tightened.
Castex said police would increase their enforcement of an evening curfew and other rules already in place.
Infections remain high in France, despite recent rule tightening. The new restrictions will affect the UK, now no longer in the EU, but its transport minister clarified on Twitter that the change would not impact hauliers transporting goods to or from the UK.
The threat of a third national lockdown in France has loomed large all week, following warnings by top health officials that one would be needed amid high hospital rates and the spread of new variants.
But on Friday, following a defence and security meeting, Castex said in a televised statement it could still be prevented.
“We know the grave impact [of a lockdown]. Tonight, looking at the data of the past few days, we consider that we can still give ourselves a chance to avoid one,” he said.
Under the rule change starting on Sunday, all travel will be banned from outside the EU unless for vital reasons.
All arrivals from inside the EU will also now have to present a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test – with the exception of cross-border workers. This rule previously only applied to air and sea arrivals, not those arriving by road.
Aside from the new travel rules, the prime minister also said large, non-food shopping centres would close, while home-working rules would be reinforced.
He also pledged that police would crack down on secret parties and illegal restaurant openings.
“We want to do everything we can to avoid another lockdown. The coming days will be decisive. Let’s be very vigilant,” Mr Castex said.
France reported 820 new deaths on Friday, taking the total recorded nationally to 75,620. More than 27,000 people are in hospital with the virus – including more than 3,000 in intensive care.
Unlike many other European nations, France has resisted imposing a national lockdown to try to curb high infection rates after the festive period.
For now schools remain open across the country, but businesses like restaurants and bars have been closed with an overnight curfew enforced between 18:00 and 06:00.
Health Minister Olivier Veran warned this week that new more-transmissible variants of coronavirus were now “actively spreading” in France despite the current restrictions.
Friday’s announcement comes amid a growing row between the EU and vaccine companies about supply shortfalls.
French officials say they have given first doses to 1.45m people so far, but delivery shortages from Pfizer and Moderna are further slowing their rollout.
From Saturday, Germany will ban most travellers from countries hit hard by new variants. The countries are the UK, Ireland, Portugal, Brazil, South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini.
The move is expected to last until 17 February.
Also from Saturday, the Czech Republic has banned non-essential entry into the country, again to try to curb the new variants.
Portugal on Thursday banned non-essential overseas travel by air, land or sea for its citizens for a fortnight.
Belgium on Wednesday banned non-essential trips out of the country until 1 March.
In contrast, Italy said on Friday it would move more areas into less-restrictive rules from Monday, despite health officials warning it was risky. No areas would be classified as “red”, which brings tough travel and business restrictions.