French Bars, Restaurants Stay Shut Until at Least February

France will keep gyms, theaters and ski lifts closed until at least the end of January, and bars and restaurants until mid-February at the earliest, as the country’s coronavirus situation remains “fragile,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

The government confirmed restaurant owners’ fears, pushing back a Jan. 20 reopening date. French winter resorts, which had counted on reopening lifts this week, will be forced to delay the downhill skiing season.

Leisure and hospitality industries have been clamoring for more clarity on timing and more aid. With shutdown measures dragging on, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he’ll extend support to bigger companies in areas most hurt by restrictions, after initially focusing on smaller firms.

“Pressure on the hospital system remains strong,” Castex said at a briefing in Paris on Thursday. The “situation remains fragile” and “we can’t let our guard down in the coming weeks.”

France Mulls More Support for Companies Worst Hit by Pandemic

While the government has boasted France is doing a better job of controlling a resurgence of Covid infections than neighbors, including the U.K. and Germany, daily cases are about triple a target set by President Emmanuel Macron. The seven-day rolling average of new confirmed cases hasn’t dropped below 10,000 since September, and currently stands at around 15,000 cases.

The border with the U.K. will remain closed to try and prevent a more contagious Covid-19 variant from spreading, though French citizens and truckers with a negative coronavirus test will be able to cross, according to Castex.

He said curfew measures will remain in place across France until at least Jan. 20, while rejecting plans for a third lockdown. Still, he said that measures could be tightened should the situation worsen and that the government could add another 10 areas to the 15 where the curfew has been advanced by two hours to 6 p.m.

“France is the good student right now, but that may not last,” Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the lead doctor advising the French government on the pandemic, said in an interview with France 2 TV on Wednesday. “We’re getting to worrying numbers. By the middle of next week, it may be time to discuss stronger measures to avoid the epidemic from spreading.”

After facing criticism for a slow start hampered by red tape, the government is speeding up its vaccination program while sticking to a strategy of first vaccinating the most vulnerable. Heath Minister Olivier Veran has announced plans to add hundreds of vaccination centers in coming weeks, with the initial target population expanded beyond nursing home residents to include medical staff over the age of 50 and citizens aged 75 and over.

The government aims to vaccinate 1 million French by the end of January, Veran said at the briefing. He said more than 25,000 people will get the Pfizer Inc.-BioNtech SE vaccine on Thursday, up from 12,500 on Wednesday and 5,000 on Tuesday.

France is expecting weekly deliveries of an addition 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, rising to 1 million a week in March, Veran said. French health authorities have validated the principle of delaying a follow-up dose of the vaccine to six weeks from three, which would allow for more people to be inoculated and faster, he said.

France is counting on receiving 100,000 doses of the Moderna Inc.’s vaccine in January and another 500,000 in February, with shipments rising further in the following months, Veran said.

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