The cities of Lyon, Lille, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne will become zones of maximum alert from Saturday.
Bars and restaurants will have to close, as they did in Paris earlier this week and Marseille last month.
The measures were announced as France saw a near-record 18,129 new cases.
"The situation has deteriorated in several metropolises in recent days," French Health Minister Olivier Veran said at a news conference on Thursday. "Every day, more and more people are infected."
France's maximum-alert level comes into force when the infection rate in a locality exceeds 250 infections per 100,000 people and at least 30% of intensive care beds are reserved for Covid-19 patients.
Hospitals in the Paris region moved into emergency mode on Thursday, as coronavirus patients took up almost half of intensive-care beds.
France's coronavirus situation mirrors that of other European countries, including the Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, which all reported record increases in daily cases on Thursday.
Even Germany, a relative success story of the pandemic in Europe, has started to see what its health minister has called a worrying rise in cases.