A man receives the AstraZeneca vaccine in the state of Brandenburg, Germany, March 3 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE
A man receives the AstraZeneca vaccine in the state of Brandenburg, Germany, March 3 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE

Paris/Berling — France has extended a lockdown to three additional regions amid a surge in coronavirus cases, leading Germany to consider declaring the country a high-incidence virus area and requiring tests for entry.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Thursday that the decision to step up measures, which is expected imminently, wouldn’t lead to border controls between the neighbouring countries.

European nations are struggling to contain the spread of Covid-19 as a third wave of infections forces leaders to renew restrictions amid a lagging vaccination campaign. Any increased measures would likely raise concern in German-French border areas, where two-nation commuter and commercial traffic is part of everyday life.

“It will be discussed with France,” Merkel said. “I don’t think this is any special or extraordinary measure. But if you look at the incidence rate, it is factually necessary.”

Seeking to spare the French economy another shock and betting on the impact from vaccinations, President Emmanuel Macron has ignored calls to place the country under a third nation-wide lockdown as a rise in new coronavirus cases and deaths since mid-February has placed hospitals and the whole health system under huge pressure.

“We were right not to put France into lockdown at the end of January because we didn’t have the explosion that all the models predicted,” Macron told reporters on Thursday. “I have no mea culpa to make, no remorse, no failure to declare.”

With close to 4,700 people placed in intensive care as of Thursday, the number is approaching the peak seen last autumn, at 4,900, according to statistics from the French health authorities. The number of people in France who have tested positive out of 100,000 over the past seven days rose to 325. The German rate is 119.1.

As the vaccination campaign has accelerated over the past weeks, in spite of a brief suspension in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Macron said that as “the coming weeks will be difficult, we will make all necessary measures in due time and there is no taboo to me.”

Stronger controls

French foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the new border restrictions would include tests, but no mandatory quarantine and that Paris would co-ordinate with Germany to minimise disruption for workers at the border.

“The explosion of the virus is faster than they thought so they will strengthen controls with the French territory,” Le Drian told France Info.

For four weeks, starting this weekend, the Nievre, Rhone and Aube areas will follow Paris and several other regions with tougher restrictions on movement, health minister Olivier Véran told reporters on Thursday. A 7pm curfew also remains in place.

“The pressure on health, the pressure on hospitals, which is already high, will continue to rise in the coming days,” Véran said, adding that the situation was critical in the greater Paris region of Île-de-France.

Véran said the profile of Covid-19 patients in hospitals is changing, with more young people being admitted, some of whom don’t have pre-existing conditions. Health authorities reported more than 65,000 overall new cases in 24 hours on Wednesday and more than 45,000 on Thursday.

“There are more younger people in intensive care,” Véran told reporters, adding that this was due to the variant first recognised in Britain. Fewer older people are being admitted, meanwhile, thanks to a vaccination campaign targeting that age group, he added.


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