Issued on: 04/03/2021 – 18:41

France aims to vaccinate at least 10 million people by mid-April, 20 million by mid-May and 30 million by the summer, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.

Advertising

Castex said that so far 3.2 million people have been vaccinated, including 1.8 million who have received two doses.

The prime minister told a weekly Covid-19 news conference that more than 60 percent of all new coronavirus infections registered in France are linked to the variant first detected in Britain. He said a weekend lockdown would be imposed in the northern Pas-de-Calais department, following similar lockdowns around Nice and Dunkirk.

“The circulation of the virus has accelerated over the past two weeks and that is clearly linked to the UK variant,” Castex said.

While the virus is not rising exponentially, the health system remains under massive pressure, he added.

He also said the Hautes-Alpes, Aisne and Aube would be

added to a series of high-alert departments, but added that

there was no need for weekend lockdowns there at this stage.

Paris area spared weekend lockdown

Castex’s remarks confirmed speculation that President Emmanuel Macron had decided to spare the Paris region a weekend lockdown for now, determined to keep France’s economy as open as possible, even though the death rate from Covid-19 is still creeping up.

Macron is hoping to avoid another setback for the economy in the expectation that France’s coronavirus vaccination programme, which has targeted the most vulnerable but been slow, will gradually reduce the numbers falling sick and dying.

“If we can avoid a weekend lockdown in Paris, we will try to do so,” Macron told ministers, according to a Reuters source. “Every weekend gained is important.”

A spokesperson for Castex had said that a lockdown, even if only at the weekend, should be a “last resort”. The situation in Paris will be reviewed next week.

While some neighbours such as Britain and Germany have resorted to sweeping national lockdowns to fight a resurgence in the virus spurred by new variants, France has opted for a less severe nightly curfew and the closure of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

As Britain now charts a course out of lockdown as new infections fall sharply, France has not yet turned the corner.

France registered 26,788 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday. Cases have been rising at a steady weekly rate of just above 4 percent since early January, although this is far below increases of more than 20 percent seen before and during a nationwide lockdown in November.

In Ile-de-France, a region of 12 million people centred on Paris, there were 388 Covid-related deaths in hospitals in the week to March 3, compared to 379 and 374 in the preceding weeks.

The weekend lockdown in Pas-de-Calais will remain in place for several weeks, one of the officials said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)