French southwest region to make face masks in public places obligatory

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One of the regions in southwestern France will see the restoration of the use of face masks in all public spaces indoors and out following a rise in Covid-19 infections due to the Delta variant.

Drinking alcohol drinking will also be prohibited outdoors in the Pyrenees-Orientales department on the Mediterranean coast just north of Spain. However, according to a statement by the regional authorities, masks will not be required on beaches or in wide open spaces such as mountain trails.

"More measures could be announced depending on the evolution of health indications and pressure on the hospital system," the prefecture said.

The Pyrenees-Orientales department has currently the highest incident rate in France at 257 per 100,000 people, up from 130 on Monday -- well above the alert level of 50. Rates are even higher in neighbouring Catalonia and elsewhere in Spain, and French officials have urged people not to cross the border for holidays.

Overall in France the incident rate stands at 40, according to the health ministry, but daily case numbers have been rising rapidly as the Delta variant spreads. On Monday, President Emmanuel Macron said vaccinations would now be mandatory for healthcare and retirement home workers, many of whom remain reluctant or outright opposed to the jabs.

France recorded 3617 new Covid cases and 16 more deaths yesterday.

Weekend curfew in Barcelona

Barcelona will also impose a curfew from this weekend to fight the Covid-19 surge. On Wednesday, the northeastern region of Catalonia on Wednesday had asked the courts for permission to impose a nightly curfew in Barcelona. It is following in the footsteps of the neighbouring region of Valencia which has already received the green light to restore a curfew in 32 towns.

Catalonia, the epicentre of Spain's jump in infections, has already in recent days ordered public activities to finish at half past midnight, and restricted gatherings to no more than 10 people.

The Covid-19 infection rate for people aged 20- 29 in Catalonia has jumped to 3,311 cases per 100,000 people, compared to a national average of 437 cases among people of all ages.

Tougher restrictions in Israel, Australia

Meanwhile, a number of countries are introducing tougher restrictions to curb the spread of the Delta variant. In Israel, plans are afoot to allow only those vaccinated or who have recovered from coronavirus to take part in indoor events of more than 100 people.

They will also have to wear masks, except for eating and drinking.

In the past 24 hours, more than 600 cases have been reported, up from around 200 per day on average a week ago.

In Australia, Melbourne and the surrounding Victoria region was preparing to enter a fresh lockdown following a rise in Covid-19 cases.

About 12 million Australians will be under stay-at-home orders by late Thursday as the country's second biggest city Melbourne goes into a "hard and fast" lockdown, joining Sydney.

(with AFP)

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