France in race to contain new Covid-19 variant, speed up vaccine rollout

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French authorities said on Sunday they were racing to contain the more infectious variant of Covid-19 first found in Britain, which has now been detected in France's Mediterranean port of Marseille and in the Alps.

Marseille Mayor Benoit Payan said seven to eight people had tested positive for the new variant in the city, while tests were underway on 30 others who may also have been exposed to it.

"Right now, every minute counts in terms of preventing the spread of this English variant," Payan told reporters.

The local health authority in the Hautes-Alpes region, home to many ski resorts which attract British visitors, said the variant had also been discovered there.

France has the seventh-highest Covid-19 death toll in the world. Deaths rose by 151 over the last 24 hours to reach a total of 67,750, while the number of new, confirmed cases rose by 15,944 to stand at around 2.78 million.

The variant, first found in England late last year, has been blamed by the British government for a surge in cases that is threatening to overrun hospitals in the UK.

Following the discovery of the variant in Marseille, French authorities added the city and surrounding area to a list of French departments where an evening curfew begins at 6pm, two hours ahead of the rest of the country.

Strasbourg and Dijon also have longer curfew hours, while the curfew starts at 8pm in Paris and most other departments.

President Emmanuel Macron's government has said it will not rule out stricter measures if the Covid-19 situation worsens in France.

The government is scrambling to speed up the country's vaccine rollout, which has been lambasted by politicians across the board.

France had delivered just 7,000 shots more than a week after launching its vaccination campaign on Dec. 27, lagging far behind most Western countries.

The government said a second vaccine, made by US company Moderna, will arrive in France on Monday.

Opinion polls show around half the French population are sceptical about having the jab – their opposition notably higher than in neighbouring countries.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)