Covid-19: French PM says third wave 'seems over' as ICU numbers near record high

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The peak of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in France “appears to be behind us”, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday, announcing that travel restrictions will be relaxed from early next month.

Castex told reporters there had been a “genuine fall in the circulation of the virus over the last 10 days”, confirming that schools will reopen on Monday and restrictions confining people to a 10-kilometre (six-mile) radius of their homes would be dropped from May 3.

But the nationwide 7pm curfew will remain in place until the Covid-19 epidemic is under control, he said.

As Castex was speaking, however, France reported that 5,981 people were in intensive care units with Covid-19, up by 22 a day earlier, the second highest record of 2021.

A total of 102,164 people have died in France from the pandemic. After a slow start, however, the vaccine campaign is gaining pace with over 13 million people now given at least a first dose.

Health Minister Olivier Véran said that France would begin offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only a single shot, from Saturday to people aged 55 and over.

In a bid to prevent new, more contagious coronavirus variants from taking hold in the country, France will impose from Saturday a 10-day quarantine on travellers arriving from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India and South Africa

Travellers from those countries will have to provide proof of where they will be quarantined and will be subject to controls. People in quarantine will only be allowed to go outside between 10am and noon, and could face fines of up to €1,500 for breaching quarantine.

Mid-May opening for terraces?

France is currently under its third lockdown to stem the coronavirus but this time it has been considerably more relaxed than the previous ones, with outdoor activities encouraged to promote mental health.

Most non-essential shops have been closed, however, along with cafes, restaurants and also cultural venues, with players in many sectors piling pressure on the government for reopenings after months of closure.

Castex said “shops, certain cultural and sporting activities and cafe terraces” could reopen “around mid-May”, depending on the health situation.

He emphasised that the government could also allow reopenings on a regional basis, starting with areas with the lowest Covid-19 incidence rates.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)