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France places Paris on top Covid-19 alert level as virus resurges

People wearing protective face masks walk in a busy street in Paris on September 18, 2020. France has reinforced measures to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
People wearing protective face masks walk in a busy street in Paris on September 18, 2020. France has reinforced measures to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). © Gonzalo Fuentes, Reuters

Paris and neighbouring suburbs have been placed on maximum coronavirus alert on Monday, the prime minister's office announced on Sunday, with the city's iconic bars closing, as alarming Covid-19 infection numbers appeared to leave the French government little choice. Mayor Anne Hidalgo is to outline further specific measures Monday morning.

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Bars in Paris and three surrounding counties will close on Tuesday as part of these measures, the prime minister's office said. However, restaurants will stay open with "reinforced precautions".

The PM's office added that it recommends "more than ever" that those who can work from home do so and that university lecture halls should be no more than half full.

France reported 16,972 new coronavirus cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since the country began widespread testing. 

Figures from the regional health agency ARS show new coronavirus cases remaining above 250 per 100,000 people in Paris, a threshold triggering the maximum alert protocol which has already hit the southern cities Aix-en-Provence and Marseille and their surroundings, as well as the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe.

"There is no justification for denial," said the ARS director for the Paris region, Aurelien Rousseau, on Sunday. "The numbers are what they are, and they are weighing heavily," he tweeted.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was to outline further specific measures Monday morning, which which would come into effect on Tuesday and last for 15 days.

'We're French, we love to drink'

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin acknowledged that the looming closure of bars  would be "tough" for everyone concerned.

"We are French, we love to drink, to eat, to live, to smile and to kiss each other," he told broadcasters LCI and Europe 1 on Sunday.

"But we're also doing this because the people want us to," he added.

BFM television on Sunday published a poll saying that 61 percent of people living in Paris and its suburbs were in favour of a complete closure of bars, which are currently authorised to remain open until 10 pm.

Other large French cities including Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Toulouse are also hovering near the maximum alert threshold and similar measures as in the capital could be in store for them, too.

Last week, restaurants and bars were shut down for a fortnight in Marseille, the southern city at the epicentre of the second wave, prompting protests and an unsuccessful legal challenge. 

Employer organisation UMIH, which represents cafes, bars, hotels, restaurants, brasseries and night clubs, has warned that 15 percent of France's 220,000 establishments in the sector are threatened with bankruptcy because of virus restrictions, with up to 250,000 staff facing unemployment.

The government has said it will take every precaution necessary to avoid a new state of emergency that would require a generalised lockdown like the one imposed at the height of the outbreak, from mid-March to mid-May.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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