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The more contagious British variant "now accounts for about half of people infected with Covid-19 in France", Prime Minister Jean Castex said during a press conference on Thursday. The same variant had represented fewer than 40 percent of cases according to numbers released a week ago.
The prime minister said a new nationwide lockdown was not on the agenda, but that French citizens needed to remain alert to make sure they contain the spread of the virus while vaccines are rolled out.
Speaking in a televised address, Castex said the spread was worrying in 20 French departments – the country's administrative regions – including Paris and the areas surrounding the capital.
He said those departments would now be subject to heightened scrutiny by public health officials.
If infection rates are still rising in those areas a week from now, measures will be taken, from March 6, similar to those in force in the cities of Nice and Dunkirk.
There, local authorities have imposed stay-at-home orders at weekends, stepped up checks at airports, cracked down on people gathering in public places and tightened rules on wearing masks outside.
Shortly after Castex's remarks, Paris's first deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, said officials planned to propose a three-week lockdown in the French capital.
The idea is to have the chance to "reopen everything” afterwards, Grégoire told France Info radio.
Like the rest of the country, Paris has been under a nighttime curfew since December 15. Its bars, restaurants and cultural venues have been closed even longer due to the spread of Covid-19.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)