Coronavirus: France's PM says easing COVID-19 lockdown now would be 'irresponsible'

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

As officials across Europe warned against COVID-19 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.


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"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 Dec. 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 to 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.

After achieving a large degree of control over the pandemic following blanket lockdowns earlier in the year, governments across Europe have imposed new curbs to halt an alarming rise in case numbers, while trying to keep economies running as far as possible.

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

The virus has killed more than 42,000 people in France. Health authorities reported 35,879 new cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 1.86 million, the highest caseload in Europe.

"The pressure on our hospitals has intensified enormously," Castex said, adding one person was hospitalized 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 5,000 new cases per day for the curbs to be lifted.

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