France Tightens Regional Covid Restrictions, Speeds Up Vaccines

France plans to tighten Covid-19 restrictions and accelerate vaccinations in parts of the country as the government continues to shy away from a third nationwide lockdown on hopes that improvement is just weeks away.

The Pas-de-Calais department on the northern coast of France will be put under a weekend lockdown as of Saturday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a weekly news conference.

“A lockdown, even limited to the weekend, is a heavy measure,” he said, adding that the government would continue to do everything to avoid another countrywide move.

France also strengthened mask-wearing rules in the most affected areas, closed large shopping centers and called on local officials to shutter places where people gather in numbers without masks.

The French government is juggling persistently high coronavirus cases with a desire to avoid the economic damage that would be caused by further lockdowns after President Emmanuel Macron said the situation should ease in four to six weeks thanks to a ramp-up in vaccinations.

France has administered 3.24 million vaccine doses, with 1.78 million people having had two jabs based on a strategy focused on the elderly and most vulnerable, but it lags the U.K., where 21 million people have had a first dose.

Authorities plan to speed up vaccinations in 23 departments across France, Castex said, adding that he aimed to have at least 20 million people vaccinated by mid-May. France’s campaign got a boost this week as it decided to allow AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to be given to over-65s.

The prime minster had warned last week that he was worried about surging case numbers in 20 regions including Paris, and that it could roll out additional measures after introducing weekend lockdowns in the cities of Nice, in the south, and Dunkirk, in the north.

Thursday’s announcement comes as Milan announced fresh curbs a year after the Italian financial capital became the first European region to enter a hard lockdown. All schools will be closed until March 14. No one will be able to leave town unless on business or health grounds, and bars and restaurants will stay shut.

In contrast, Germany on Wednesday announced a plan to gradually loosen restrictions while being careful to avoid a third wave, with further easing possible every two weeks. Chancellor Angela Merkel also said Germany would accelerate its vaccination program.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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