Friday Mar 24, 2023
Friday Mar 24, 2023

France tightens COVID-19 restrictions, steps up vaccine rollout

2021 Mar 05, 11:17, PARIS
People enjoy the sunshine in front of the Sacre Coeur Basilica atop the Montmartre in Paris, France, on Feb 24, 2021. (Photo via Xinhua)

To contain the spread of new coronavirus variants in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday announced weekend lockdown in more areas, tougher rules against social mixing in high-risk regions, and faster vaccination rollout.

The northern department of Pas-de-Calais will move into lockdown starting this weekend. The incidence rate there hit 400 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, double the national average. The number of new infections surged by 23 percent in the last five days.

As in Alpes-Maritimes and Dunkirk, people in Pas-de-Calais have to stay at home from 6 am. Saturday to 6 pm. Sunday, announced Castex at the weekly press conference on the sanitary situation.

He said that three departments -- Hautes-Alpes, Aisne, and Aube -- are added to the list of high-alert zones, where large malls will close and mask-wearing will be reinforced in all urban areas starting from Friday midnight.

Local authorities will have the power to impose a ban on public gatherings on weekends in most crowded areas in these departments "under reinforced surveillance," Castex said, calling on inhabitants to limit their travel as much as possible.

"Next weekends, even if you don't have to stay at home, limit your social interaction. We have to hold on together," said the prime minister.

"In one year, a lot has changed. We learned about the impact of lockdown, its social, economic, and human impact," he said, adding that another lockdown is "not impossible but it is not inevitable."

Viral circulation in France increased over a couple of weeks mainly due to the virus variant first spotted in Britain, which "now represents over 60 percent of infections," said Castex.

On Thursday, a further 25, 279 people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the country's cumulative cases to over 3.8 million. The overall death toll reached 87,835 after 293 patients died over the past day, according to health authorities.

Currently, 24,891 patients are hospitalized, 3,633 of them in intensive care -- down by 220 and 4 respectively.

The virus continued to circulate, but it was not rising exponentially as some experts predicted, said Castex.

"The fastest and most targeted vaccine rollout will allow us to get out of the tunnel," he added.

To that end, France plans to inoculate 10 million citizens by mid-April, 20 million by mid-May and a total of 30 million, or two-thirds of the adults, by summer. So far, 3,235,684 people have received at least the first jab, and 1,781,750 of them have got both doses, according to the prime minister.

He added that vaccine deliveries "will increase in the coming weeks" to 22 million doses over the March-April period, compared with 7 million shots received during the first two months of the year.

An Elabe poll released on Wednesday found that 75 percent of French people believed that the government's vaccination rollout is very slow. The figure is 7 percentage points higher than the pollster's January survey.

Meanwhile, the share of respondents who want to be inoculated increased by two points to 50 percent, according to the poll.

As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in an increasing number of countries with already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.

Meanwhile, 258 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 76 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain, and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on March 2.

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