Sun worshipers sit at Plage des Catalans in Marseille, southern France, on Friday, April 2, 2021. With France now Europe’s newest virus risk zone, Macron ordered the temporary closure of schools across the country and new travel restrictions on Wednesday. But he defied demands for a strict lockdown and instead stuck to his “Third Way” strategy, which seeks a path between freedom and restriction to keep infection and a troubled population under control until mass vaccination takes control . (AP Photo / Daniel Cole)

French hospitals have hired additional staff for the Easter holiday weekend to cope with the growing numbers of virus patients, while travelers gather at train stations and highways to flee major cities before new nationwide restrictions come into effect.

With a new variant of the virus that was spreading rapidly and French intensive care units were as full as they were last April, the government closed all schools and imposed stricter new rules that will go into effect across the country on Sunday.

In order to reach more COVID-19 patients over the weekend, hospitals in northern France have been ordered to hire additional staff.

Dr. Christophe Boyer, head of the ambulance service at Amiens-Picardie Hospital, is concerned about the rising number of patients, but also dismayed that, after more than a year of the pandemic, he is calling on staff to make additional efforts and work on Easter .

“It’s been a year we’ve tried to keep our heads above water,” he told The Associated Press.

In Paris, police said Saturday that they are sending 6,600 officers to enforce the new virus restrictions. These include a travel ban of more than 10 kilometers, a ban on outdoor gatherings of six or more people, and a nationwide curfew at 7:00 p.m.

On the Mediterranean coasts of Marseille, police patrolled amid sunbathers and punished people who drank in public or did not wear masks.

  • French hospitals are stepping up Easter staff to fight the resuscitation of the virus

    A medical worker who has received a Shiatsu massage examines a patient at the Porte Verte hospital in Versailles, west of Paris, on Friday April 2, 2021. As French hospitals fill up with virus patients faster and faster, Shiatsu massage specialists provide stress relief and muscle relaxation for health workers in a program organized by Human Impact, a non-profit startup that looks after French caregivers. (AP Photo / Francois Mori)

  • French hospitals are stepping up Easter staff to fight virus resurgence

    A medical staff who has received a Shiatsu massage will inform a patient at Porte Verte Hospital in Versailles, west of Paris, on Friday April 2, 2021. As French hospitals fill up with virus patients faster and faster, Shiatsu massage specialists worry for stress relief and muscle relaxation for health workers in a program organized by Human Impact, a non-profit startup that cares for French caregivers. (AP Photo / Francois Mori)

  • French hospitals are stepping up Easter staff to fight the resuscitation of the virus

    People wait outside to be vaccinated against Covid-19 on the opening day of a mass vaccination center at the Olympique Lyonnais football stadium in Decines-Charpieu on Saturday April 3, 2021. (Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, pool via AP)

  • French hospitals are stepping up Easter staff to fight the resuscitation of the virus

    Patients will receive an injection of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on the opening day of a mass vaccination center at the Olympique Lyonnais football stadium in Decines-Charpieu on Saturday April 3, 2021. (Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, pool via AP)

  • French hospitals are stepping up Easter staff to fight the resuscitation of the virus

    Travelers are waiting to board a train at Montparnasse station in Paris on Friday April 2, 2021. With France now Europe’s newest virus risk zone, Macron ordered the temporary closure of schools across the country and new travel restrictions on Wednesday. But he defied demands for a strict lockdown and instead stuck to his “Third Way” strategy, which seeks a path between freedom and restriction to keep infection and a troubled population under control until mass vaccination takes control . (AP Photo / Thibault Camus)

  • French hospitals are stepping up Easter staff to fight the resuscitation of the virus

    Travelers are waiting to board a train at Montparnasse station in Paris on Friday April 2, 2021. With France now Europe’s newest virus risk zone, Macron ordered the temporary closure of schools across the country and new travel restrictions on Wednesday. But he defied demands for a strict lockdown and instead stuck to his “Third Way” strategy, which seeks a path between freedom and restriction to keep infection and a troubled population under control until mass vaccination takes control . (AP Photo / Thibault Camus)

  • French hospitals are stepping up Easter staff to fight the resuscitation of the virus

    A traveler is waiting to board a train at Montparnasse station in Paris on Friday April 2, 2021. With France now Europe’s newest virus risk zone, Macron on Wednesday ordered the temporary closure of schools across the country and new travel restrictions. But he defied demands for a strict lockdown and instead stuck to his “Third Way” strategy, which seeks a path between freedom and restriction to keep infection and a troubled population under control until mass vaccination takes control . (AP Photo / Thibault Camus)

However, authorities said they would show “tolerance” over the Easter weekend to allow parents to organize childcare or city dwellers to travel to the country to settle for a month with lockdown restrictions. As a result, the crowds filled the train stations in the Paris area from Friday evening, and the SNCF National Railway Authority expected 600,000 people to travel over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the government is trying to accelerate France’s vaccination efforts after a slow start marked by vaccination delays, bureaucracy and logistical problems. People lined up at a stadium in Lyon on Saturday to get vaccinated and other vaccination centers across the country increased injections during the holiday season.

More than 96,000 people have died with the virus in France, where more viral infections have been reported than any other European country.

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