France considers third national lockdown as Covid-19 cases rise

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President Emmanuel Macron meets with France’s health council on Tuesday to consider whether to reimpose lockdown restrictions for a third time amid concern over a rise in Covid-19 cases.

France eased restrictions imposed during a second lockdown on December 15 but the average number of daily coronavirus cases has not fallen below a key 5,000 threshold set by the government. Although the number of new infections appeared to have fallen over the Christmas holidays – only 2,960 new coronavirus infections were reported on Monday, down from 8,822 on Sunday and 3,093 on Saturday – officials fear the figures are misleading. Many of the country’s testing facilities closed over the holidays and the drop could simply be due to fewer people getting tested.

France has remained under a strict 8pm-6am curfew, with Christmas Eve being the only exception. Although shops reopened in mid-December to help boost the ailing French economy, dine-in service at restaurants and cafés is suspended and cultural venues such as cinemas and theatres remain closed in a bid to stop the virus from spreading further.

France’s Health Minister Olivier Véran told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday that the government had not ruled out a third total lockdown.

"We will never exclude measures that are necessary to protect the public," he said. "That is not to say we have made a decision, but that we are watching the situation hour by hour."

Some French regions, particularly those located in the east of the country, have been harder hit than others, and the French government – which is not expected to make any new lockdown announcements until after the New Year – could decide to impose such restrictions regionally, rather than nationally.

Leaders in cities like Nice in the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, for example, want to avoid another full lockdown and are instead pushing for a tightening of restrictions – including bringing the night-time curfew forward to 6pm and stricter border controls – to prevent the virus from crossing into France from neighbouring countries.

Since the start of the pandemic France has recorded more than 63,000 Covid-19 deaths. The cumulative number of cases in France now totals 2,562,646, the fifth-highest in the world.

On Friday France confirmed its first case of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain.

The emergence of the new strain prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the UK. Following a snap 48-hour ban on UK arrivals this week, France reopened its borders.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)