By Dominique Vidalon and Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) - France's government on Wednesday ordered a weekend lockdown in the Dunkirk area to arrest an "alarming" rise in COVID-19 cases, signalling extra curbs might also be needed elsewhere as daily cases nationwide hit their highest since November.
Unlike some of its neighbours, France has resisted a new national lockdown to control more contagious coronavirus variants, hoping a curfew in place since Dec. 15 can contain the pandemic.
But it reported 31,519 new infections on Wednesday, up from 25,018 a week ago and the most since mid-November.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the national situation was deteriorating, and "a source of worry in about 10 regional departments". Some required "rapid and strong" containment measures.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said the region around Dunkirk, a port across the English Channel from Britain currently recording more than 900 new cases per 100,000 residents per week, would go into lockdown from Friday night to Monday morning for the next two weekends.
Attal reiterated that the government was doing all it could to avoid a new national lockdown.
"We have shown in regions such as Moselle and Alpes-Maritimes that, when the situation requires it, we can act quickly," he told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
The Alpes-Maritimes Mediterranean coastal region around Nice announced a partial lockdown over the next two weekends on Monday.
Veran said the lockdown in Dunkirk, which has a population of 92,000 and where the more contagious UK COVID-19 variant has been gaining ground, would be of similar duration.
In Nice, infection rates surged following an inflow of tourists over the Christmas holiday.
Veran said he would communicate the list of "high-risk" departments at his weekly news conference on Thursday.
France also reported 277 new coronavirus fatalities on Wednesday, down from 431 on Tuesday.
Cumulative cases have risen above 3.6 million, the sixth highest in the world, and fatalities stand at 85,321 - the seventh highest toll globally.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Kevin Liffey and John Stonestreet)