COVID-19 hospitalisations hit near nine-week high in France

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Closed and vacant shops in Paris amid the coronavirus disease outbreak

PARIS (Reuters) - The number of COVID-19 patients in French hospitals hit a near nine-week high on Sunday, as the country shut its borders to all but essential travel to and from nearly all countries outside the European Union.

There are 27,613 COVID-19 sufferers being treated in hospitals in France, up 331 on the previous day and hitting a level last seen on Dec. 1.

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday did not impose a third national lockdown and instead tightened COVID-19 border controls, shutting down large shopping malls and stepping up the policing of a nightly curfew.

Health Minister Olivier Veran told the Journal du Dimanche that France could still avert a third wave without another full confinement. But he said the variants first detected in Britain and South Africa were dangerous and the government would swiftly impose another lockdown if infections spiked.

Health authorities reported 19,235 new COVID-19 cases, compared with 18,436 last Sunday. The number of patients infected with the coronavirus in intensive care increased by 45 to 3,158, they said.

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Edmund Blair and Barbara Lewis)