France begins winter school holidays as infections reach 'terrifying' levels

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France has recorded 22,000 new coronavirus infections in the 24 hours before the start of school holidays Saturday, amid warnings that pressure on hospitals remains high. Ski resorts, meanwhile, were largely empty as most French opt to holiday at home.

The latest public health data shows the progression of more contagious variants of the Covid-19 virus has kept cases numbers up over the past week, with more than 27,500 patients being treated in French hospitals.

Variants from English, South African and Brazilian make up for 14 percent of all cases detected on 27 January, according to preliminary results that were made public on Thursday.

The situation is particularly dire in Paris hospitals, where the medical director of the AP-HP public hospital group, Bruno Riou, warned the "terrifying" virus was being “poorly controlled” by existing measures.

“We are going to live through very difficult times in the coming weeks,” Riou told BFMTV, predicting a "slow but steady increase” in infections and admissions to intensive care wards.

Fewer holidaymakers

The numbers, however, do not justify a new lockdown, the French government has said – assuring holidaymakers their plans for the next four weeks of school vacation will be unaffected.

Restaurants remain closed, and those heading to alpine regions for ski holidays have been reminded to respect France’s 6pm curfew. Although ski lifts will not be operating, the resorts themselves are open.

On the eve of holidays, however, France Info reported that two-thirds of accommodation in the Savoie Mont Blanc region remained empty.

Travel throughout the European Union is permitted for those carrying a negative PCR or antigenic test, depending on the country.

An Amivac survey published by BFMTV revealed that only 20 percent of French people intend to go on holiday in February.

Meanwhile, in an effort to speed up France's limping vaccination drive, AstraZeneca's jab will be distributed across the country and in seven overseas territories from Saturday, the third such vaccine to be authorised for use in France by EU regulators after Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna.

Some 273,600 doses are being delivered, with a second batch of 304,800 doses to follow next week.