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France extends 6pm curfew to Marseille as 21 test positive for new variant

Former Marseille mayor Michèle Rubirola receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Timone Hospital in Marseille on January 5, 2021.
Former Marseille mayor Michèle Rubirola receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Timone Hospital in Marseille on January 5, 2021. © Christophe Simon, AFP
4 min

France is to extend its Covid-19 curfew to a further eight departments, including the Bouches-du-Rhône area around Marseille, where police announced on Saturday that 21 people had tested positive for the new strain of Covid-19 first detected in England.

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France has been ramping up its anti-virus restrictions in the face of rising cases and imposed a post-New Year curfew from 6pm on 15 of its 101 departments, with the remainder subject to an 8pm confinement.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Jean Castex said a further eight departments would be added to the list, describing the new curfew measures as a "tough and necessary" response amid protests from local officials.

Departments hit by the 6pm curfew are deemed to be where the virus is spreading the most in a country that has seen some 67,000 deaths to date from some 2.7 million cases and with a reproduction rate escalating.

The new departments likely to be be subject to an earlier curfew are primarily in the east of the country, including Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin and Côte-d'Or, as well as the central one of Cher.

Castex highlighted the southern port of Marseille, France's second largest city, where local politicians of all stripes have voiced opposition to extending the partial lockdown, questioning its effectiveness.  

"In reality we are applying the same criteria to Marseille as we apply elsewhere," said the PM, confirming the earlier lockdown would be extended to eight departments including the Bouches-du-Rhône, which includes Marseille.

"Everybody is conscious of the epidemic not weakening or that on the contrary it is growing stronger in some areas," Castex said.

The move comes as police in Marseille announced that 21 people had tested positive for the highly contagious strain of the novel coronavirus first detected in England.

Police said the new cases had been detected within a family cluster.

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

Castex also defended the government's vaccine rollout strategy, which has been lambasted by politicians across the board for its slow start. 

"The objective is to go quickly, [but] do it in absolutely irreproachable security conditions," Castex said.

Opinion polls show around half the French population are sceptical about having the jab – their opposition notably higher than in neighbouring countries.

Castex underlined what he termed the "credibility" of the vaccine strategy, adding: "It must succeed, as that is what will allow us to find our way out of this serious and worsening health crisis."

Health Minister Olivier Véran stressed that France would be stepping up the rate of vaccinations from the coming week.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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