France Says New Lockdown Not Justified at the Moment

The French prime minister said on Thursday that while it isn’t possible to ease Covid-19 restrictions yet, the government doesn’t need to impose a fresh lockdown at the moment.

“The situation at this time doesn’t justify a new lockdown,” Jean Castex said during a weekly news conference to update the country on the health situation and take stock of the effectiveness of current measures. “We have kept the epidemic under control while preserving the economic and social life of our country as much as possible.”

President Emmanuel Macron is holding off on a new lockdown and giving a national curfew running from 6 p.m to 6 a.m a chance, with additional restrictions on borders starting this month to try to limit new variants entering the country. The circulation of the virus in France is high, but has been relatively stable for the past two weeks.

French statistics agency INSEE estimates that a seven-week nationwide lockdown similar to November’s would shrink the economy by 1% in the first quarter, while the economy would grow 1.5% if restrictions remain unchanged. The speed of the vaccine rollout will be key to determining when the economy can get back to normal.

The approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the French National Authority for Health this week means that 4 million people will be able to get a first jab by the end of February, Castex said. Vaccinations with AstraZeneca shots will start on Saturday.

“Vaccination is a speed race but shouldn’t be done at the expense of quality and safety,” Castex said. The campaign “depends on deliveries by laboratories and forces us to adapt.”

Last Resort

Still, rising pressure on the French hospital system could force Macron to impose what would be the third lockdown since the crisis began about a year ago. The more contagious variants of the virus, mostly from the U.K., are “a real threat,” Castex said. They represent 14% of cases today, as opposed to 3.3% in early January.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said at the news conference that authorities had found four patients infected with the Brazilian Covid variant as of Wednesday, including in mainland France and on the island of Reunion.

“It’s the South African and Brazilian variants that worry us the most,” the minister said. “Our goal is clear, we want to limit as much as possible the spread of these variants, to gain time to vaccinate.”

Castex added that a new lockdown could only be considered as a last resort.

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