France Turns Focus on Regions Including Paris as Cases Surge
(Bloomberg) -- Paris is among 20 French regions potentially facing tougher Covid-19 restrictions from next week as cases jump, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.
The government has asked health authorities to closely monitor the situation in the capital and districts including parts of northern France as it seeks to avoid a third nationwide lockdown, Castex said on Thursday.
“A lockdown is a tool that we have to resort to when we can’t do anything else,” Castex told a weekly news conference in Paris. “We must do everything to put it off and allow the vaccines time to have an effect.”
The government introduced weekend lockdowns this week in the cities of Dunkirk and Nice, located at opposite ends of the country, to help prevent the spread of new and more virulent coronavirus variants. President Emmanuel Macron is opting for additional restrictions in hotspots to avoid a full lockdown that would crush the economy and could backfire politically just over a year before presidential elections.
The country is already implementing a nationwide curfew that runs from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., but officials have warned that more might be needed amid a sluggish vaccine roll-out. Castex said on Thursday that vaccinations were starting to have an impact and would curb the pandemic from the end of spring.
While France has seen an average of about 20,000 new cases a day since December, and intensive-care occupancy recently showed a slight gain to 67%, there’s an increasingly pronounced regional variation. Macron said on Tuesday that trend justifies a case-by-case approach.
In Dunkirk, the number of cases has reached around 900 for 100,000 residents over the past week. The national average is 200, but there are wide disparities between French regions, with 10 areas flagged by government spokesman Gabriel Attal as particularly alarming.
The region of Alpes Maritime in southern France, including its capital of Nice, is also being shuttered over the coming two weekends to avoid gatherings during school holidays. The Paris region is under scrutiny as cases continue to rise there.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran last week traveled to the eastern region of Moselle, which had seen a high number of cases of the Brazilian and South African virus forms. But rather than impose extra curbs, authorities chose to accelerate the local vaccine program.
Macron is navigating between pressure from doctors and researchers calling for another national shutdown to prevent a surge in cases and deaths, and businesses wanting to remain open to avoid collapse. A study by the Ministry of Finance showed that a third lockdown would cause the economy to contract by 10% to 18% compared to pre-crisis levels.
Alain Fisher, the government’s coordinator of the vaccination campaign, said on Monday that 75% of residents in pension homes have been inoculated and that vulnerable citizens would get the jab by June.
Overall, France has given the first jab to about 2.5 million people, including 1.1 million who also received the second injection. That’s about 5.9 doses per 100 people, according to Bloomberg’s virus tracker. The EU average is 6 doses, compared with 27 in the U.K., which has Europe’s highest death toll from the virus, and 20 in the U.S.
France’s second lockdown started in late October and ended mid December, with the curfew extended last month. Culture and sports venues, as well as restaurants, bars and cafes, have remain closed.
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