Easing lockdown irresponsible: French PM

Sudip Kar-Gupta
·2-min read

Prime Minister Jean Castex says there will be no easing of a second coronavirus lockdown in France for at least two weeks, with the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 now higher than at the peak of the first wave.

As officials across Europe warned against complacency following this week's announcement by Pfizer of a potentially effective vaccine, Castex said his government intended to intensify policing of the lockdown in Paris.

"It would be irresponsible to soften the lockdown now," the prime minister told a news conference on Thursday.

"The gains (we are seeing) are fragile."

Castex said a quarter of current deaths in the country were due to the virus and that while the 'R' rate that measures the spread was now below 1 it was too early to contemplate relaxing measures.

Castex said France could start to loosen restrictions from December 1 if the case numbers permitted, first by allowing shops to re-open.

But he said bars and restaurants would not be able permitted to resume operating until later still.

Asked if citizens could buy train tickets to travel at Christmas, he replied: "It's a bit too early to say."

If the slowdown in the rate of new cases was maintained, France will pass the peak of the second wave early next week.

But Castex added he would not hesitate to impose stricter measures if the spread quickened once more.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Thursday offered landlords an increased tax credit on commercial rents from small and mid-sized companies if they did not collect payment in November.

French health authorities on Thursday reported 33,172 new infections over the past 24 hours, slightly down on Wednesday's 35,879 and much lower than Saturday's record of 86,852.

But the number of hospitalisations for the disease increased by 737 to reached a new all-time high of 32,638, almost 350 higher than the previous April 14 peak of 32,292.

The number of people in France who have died from COVID-19 infections rose by 425 to 42,960, versus 328 on Wednesday.

"The pressure on our hospitals has intensified enormously," Castex said, adding one person was hospitalised every 30 seconds somewhere in France as a result of the virus.

When President Emmanuel Macron put the country back into lockdown, he said new infections needed to be hauled down to 5000 new cases per day for the curbs to be lifted.