French government defends no-lockdown Covid strategy

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France’s Health Minister Olivier Véran has backed President Emmanuel Macron's decision not to impose a third nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of new and potentially more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

Although the presence of more contagious variants of the virus causing Covid-19 grows every week, Olivier Véran reiterated Tuesday that the government was confident its curfew and vaccine programme were enough to prevent a third wave.

"New variants increase around 50 percent per week, which is less in countries that are not under curfew," Véran told media. “The measures taken to stabilise the health situation are shown to be effective.”

Unlike Britain and Germany, France has refrained from imposing a third national lockdown, hoping a curfew in place since 15 December and a vaccination programme that has now given first shots to more than 2 million people will be enough to prevent future epidemic waves.

Véran said he expected between 3.5 and 4 million people in France will have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of February.

No more lockdowns 'a possibility'

Some health officials have warned about the strain being placed on the hospital system and the impact of more contagious variants of the new coronavirus.

“For three weeks we have had (on average) 20,000 new cases per day and 3,000 to 3,200 patients in intensive care units. It’s high but stable,” Véran said. “It does not call for national lockdown measures.”

Véran went so far as to evoke the possibility that France would not have to go into lockdown again.

“It is obviously possible and desirable that we will never go into lockdown again,” he said.

The most recent daily Covid tally Monday evening showed 458 people had died in the previous 24 hours, raising the total official death toll to 79,423.

Reassurance on AstraZeneca jab

Véran also said people living in mainland France should not doubt the effectiveness of the newly available AstraZeneca vaccine against the variants of the coronavirus present in the country, saying the jab was effective against 99 percent of strains of the new coronavirus in France.

But he added officials were watching the overseas spread of a variant that has shown some resistance to the jab.

“We are monitoring the progression of the South African variant, notably in Mayotte,” he said of the French Indian Ocean territory.

South Africa put its AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out on hold after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild and moderate infections caused by the variant of the coronavirus dominant there.

Available on mainland France as of last weekend to complement the already available Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the AstraZeneca jab was destined to be the primary vaccine for health care workers.

(with newswires)