France extends weekend lockdown to northern region

AFP
Paris, France Published: Mar 06, 2021, 10:39 PM(IST)

France's Health Ministry on Sunday said that it had detected eight cases of the Omicron variant across the country. This comes in after the government announced it would tighten restrictions. France is in the midst of a fifth wave of the virus. The Health Ministry recommended on Saturday the isolation of any contact person at risk of a possible case or a confirmed case of the Omicron variant, even vaccinated, in documents sent to establishments and health professionals. Photograph:( AFP )

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The residents of Pas-de-Calais on the north coast joined those in the region's port of Dunkirk -- and the Mediterranean resort of Nice -- already shut down on Saturdays and Sundays.

Hundreds of thousands of people in northern France went back into lockdown Saturday, while health officials stepped up their nationwide vaccination campaign to make up ground after a slow start.

The residents of Pas-de-Calais on the north coast joined those in the region's port of Dunkirk -- and the Mediterranean resort of Nice -- already shut down on Saturdays and Sundays.

That puts more than two million people across France under the weekend restrictions, required to stay at home unless they can provide a written exemption.

With hospital capacity at 90 percent in Pas-de-Calais, the region's prefect insisted the new restrictions were necessary to prevent local health services from being overwhelmed.

Two thirds of the cases recorded there recently have been the more contagious variant first detected in England, said local officials.

But with a 6pm-6am curfew already in place and non-essential shops closed there, the new restrictions will hurt already hard-pressed businesses.

- Slow progress on vaccinations -

Covid-19 has killed 88,300 people across France, according to the latest figures Saturday. 

The government is trying to step up its vaccination campaign to give a first jab to 10 million people by mid-April, 20 million by mid-May and 30 million by summer.

So far however, fewer than 3.4 million people in France have received at least one dose of the vaccine -- compared with more than 22 million in Britain.

New vaccination centres opened in Pas-de-Calais this weekend, and around a hundred across the Paris region also got up and running.

The government has opted for targetted measures in the worst-hit regions rather than another a nationwide lockdown.

Thus in Paris on Friday, police banned the consumption of alcohol outdoors to try to reduce the crowds gathering to enjoy the spring sunshine.

France's Order of Doctors meanwhile, appealed to all health workers to set an example and get vaccinated. So far, take-up in the sector has been just 30 percent.

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