In France, UK variant found in a quarter of new Covid-19 infections

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France's average count of new Covid-19 cases continued to fall on Thursday and the number of people hospitalised with the disease decreased for a third day running, but the country's health minister warned about the threat posed by coronavirus variants.

In contrast with some of its neighbours which are struggling to control more contagious variants, France has resisted resorting to a new lockdown, hoping a national curfew in place since Dec 15, first at 8 p.m. then at 6 p.m., will be enough to contain the pandemic.

But during a press conference, health minister Olivier Véran said the variant first detected in Britain now accounted for 25% of confirmed new cases in France.

"Scientists fear a new epidemic if this variant were to become dominant", Véran said, adding the government would decide in coming weeks whether more restrictive measures were necessary.

The health minister also said variants first detected in Brazil and South Africa now accounted for 4% to 5% of all new cases.

"The spread of these two variants on French territory is not unavoidable ", he said, adding the situation was worrying in some areas of Eastern France, the hotbed of the first wave of the disease almost a year ago.

Health authorities reported 21,063 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on Thursday, down from Wednesday's 25,387 figure and last Thursday's total of 23,448.

The seven-day moving average of new infections, which evens out daily reporting irregularities, stands at 18,868, the lowest since Jan 19. The total cumulative number of cases increased to 3.41 million, the sixth-highest in the world.

The number of people hospitalised with the disease fell for a third day to 27,007, the lowest since Jan. 25, but the total number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs), another measure of the pandemic closely watched by the government, was up by 18 to 3,337.

The number of people in France who have died from Covid-19 infections rose by 360, to 80,803 – the seventh-highest death toll globally – versus 296 on Wednesday and a seven-day moving average of 407.