Paris region and beyond to begin month-long limited lockdown on Friday

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French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Thursday a month-long limited lockdown for Paris and other regions of the country starting Friday as the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units spikes. Schools and essential shops, including bookstores, will remain open.

Castex said the new restrictions will take effect from Friday midnight and will last four weeks. The restrictions will be imposed on 16 regions, including the Paris area.

While non-essential businesses will close and movement outside will be restricted in the affected regions, schools will stay open and outdoor exercise allowed up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) from home, he said. The curfew will also be reduced, starting at 7pm from Friday.

The progression of the Covid-19 epidemic in France is clearly accelerating, Castex said. "More and more this is looking like a third wave," he told the news conference.

The announcement falls on the week of the one-year anniversary of France’s first nationwide lockdown. President Emmanuel Macron made the announcement on March 16 and the lockdown went into effect at midday on March 17, 2020, and ended 55 days later on May 10.

France's second lockdown in November spared schools, although France never did achieve the president's objective of bringing new infections down to under 5,000 per day, with the numbers plateauing before beginning to rise again in 2021.

On January 16, France introduced a 6pm curfew that was initially planned for 15 days but is still ongoing.

Sixth-highest in the world

With 4.11 million people infected since the start of the outbreak, France has the sixth-highest case count in the world.

Macron had strongly argued against a third national lockdown, preferring instead to enforce local restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus and rising numbers of the more contagious British variant.

"Let's be clear, we're in a third wave mostly down to the rise of this famous British variant," Macron said late Wednesday after a day of talks with medical staff and local mayors in the Paris region. "The situation is critical. It's going to be very hard until mid-April."

National figures for daily infections had remained steady at around 20,000 a day in February, but new cases have risen 20 percent in the last week alone.

On Thursday, around 38,000 new infections were reported – the highest level in four months – as Paris hospitals overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases began transferring patients to other regions.

More than 91,000 people have died in France from the disease, according to an official count.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)