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Paris could face new Covid-19 restrictions from Monday, health minister says

French Health Minister Olivier Veran puts on his protective face mask after a news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation in France, at the Bichat hospital in Paris as COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb in France, October 1, 2020.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran puts on his protective face mask after a news conference on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation in France, at the Bichat hospital in Paris as COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb in France, October 1, 2020. © gon

The French government could place Paris on maximum alert as soon as Monday amid a rise in Covid-19 infections, Health Minister Olivier Véran said Thursday, a move that would likely force the closure of restaurants and bars, and tighten other restrictions on public life. France reported nearly 14,000 new confirmed coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, close to the record levels seen last week.

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The number of infections rose by 13,970 to a total of 577,505 cases, the health ministry said, more than the 12,845 reported on Wednesday and below a record of 16,096 on Thursday last week. 

But France’s Véran said five other cities – Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Toulouse and Saint-Étienne – could also be placed on maximum alert next week. 

Paris bars have to shut at 10pm local time and gyms have been closed completely since Monday. 

Véran said the wider Paris region, comprising 7 million people, had now passed all three of the government's criteria for being placed on the highest level of alert. In the past 24 hours, the incidence rate has risen to 259.6 coronavirus cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, surpassing the alert threshold of 250.

In Paris and in the surrounding communes, Véran said that 30 to 35 percent of intensive care beds are currently occupied by coronavirus patients, above the critical level of 30 percent. Paris has also passed the third criteria, which tallies the number of Covid-19 cases among those over the age of 65, which has reached 132 cases per 100,000 people, surpassing the threshold of 100. 

Nationwide, he said, there was no short-term risk of hospitals being overwhelmed by an influx of coronavirus patients.

"It is getting worse faster in Paris and the surrounding area," Véran told a news conference.

"We need a few days to confirm the trends, but if they are confirmed, we'll have no choice but to put it on maximum alert, from Monday," he said, adding that could require "a total closure of bars". "We're in a phase where the situation is worsening," he added, saying the government and Paris City Hall would take another look at the indicators on Sunday and act if there was no improvement.

"We will take, collectively, the measures that are necessary and which we can already anticipate."

Restaurateurs march on Friday

So far, only the southern city of Marseille and the Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe have been placed on maximum alert. The government ordered bars and restaurants there to shut down for two weeks from last Monday, prompting protests and a legal challenge, which failed. Restaurateurs plan a protest on Friday in Paris.

However, faced with the fury of restaurant owners in Marseille who say the total shutdown is threatening their livelihoods, Véran said officials could start easing restrictions in some areas.

He said there were signs the crisis was easing in Bordeaux and Nice as well as Marseille, where earlier rounds of restrictions were imposed.

As well as restaurant closures, Marseille has seen a shutdown of public venues such as museums and cinemas unless strict safeguards are put in place.

>> ‘Paris thinks we’re small fry’: Marseille seething over order to shut bars and restaurants

"The government is going to study the sanitary proposals and study the rules for restaurants, including in maximum alert zones," Véran said. If approved by health authorities, "that could allow restaurants to remain completely or partially opened, but with reinforced sanitary rules", he added, suggesting that Paris eateries could remain open.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP & REUTERS)

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