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France curfew 'not enough' to halt virus - Health Minister

Minister lays groundwork for stricter health measures at press conference, saying the nightly curfew has helped France avoid the 'epidemic wave of our neighbours' but its effect is fading

France's nightly 18:00 to 6:00 curfew has 'not been enough to roll back' the spread of Covid-19, and stricter measures will be necessary, Health Minister Olivier Véran has warned.

The government will decide in the coming days whether to impose stricter measures to combat the spread of Covid-19. 

"Overall, the curfew at 18:00 is effective," Mr Véran said, but added its effective was 'fading'.

"[It] has allowed us to avoid the epidemic wave of our neighbours, but it is not enough to bring down the virus.

"We are not in an epidemic wave as such. But the virus is spreading faster every week. We are on a rising plateau, with more than 20,000 positive cases detected every day. It has been increasing by 10% per week for the last three weeks."

The spread of the highly contagious variants - which he described as an 'epidemic within an epidemic' - were particularly worrying, he said. "The variants worry us. We have deployed all diagnostic means to break the chains of contamination."

He warned the variants had the potential to cause serious public health problems, "very quickly and very hard if we do nothing.

"Despite all our efforts, variants are actively circulating in France. We have gone from 500 patients with variants every day at the beginning of January to more than 2,000 now."

The had to be treated as "new viruses calling for new responses to protect us".

And he reiterated the rising pressure on hospitals with 250 admissions to intensive care every day, compared to 170 in December. "We still have more than 2,500 patients in intensive care," he said.

The official figure for ICU patients in France is, in fact, 3,100. When the country went into confinement in the autumn, there were 3,300 patients in ICU.

"That's still a lot for our hospitals and many of them have not been able to reschedule care outside Covid. There are now more serious cases than there are patients recovering. The health tension is increasing."

Prime Minister Jean Castex is starting a series of consultations on a possible third lockdown, government spokesman Gabriel Attal had earlier told France Inter. An announcement should be made over the weekend or early next week.

"At this stage, we anticipate. Before Saturday, we are working on scenarios that range from the current framework, which is unlikely, to very tight confinement. That is to say, confinement which has sufficiently rapid effects and is effective to further curb the circulation of the virus."

He added the government would 'do everything' it could to keep schools open. "I fully understand that there are concerns, that the climate is anxiety-provoking, that the French want to know what will happen, if the children will be able to go to school, what will happen around holidays," Mr Attal said.

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