France brushes off fresh lockdown, eyes curfew changes

FILE PHOTO: French Government's spokesperson Gabriel Attal, wearing a protective face mask, leaves following the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) -France was not planning local lockdown measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 for now, the government’s spokesman said on Wednesday, although he dampened hopes for a quick reopening of cultural attractions and said curfews could be tightened.

“The rate at which the virus is circulating does not justify bringing in local lockdown measures,” Gabriel Attal told BFM TV.

Attal said, however, that the government was keeping a close eye on some 20 French departments where cases were rising at a quicker pace, and confirmed that curfews could be brought forward to 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. in some areas if needed.

France has the highest COVID-19 cases count in Western Europe and the fifth in the world, and has already brought in two national lockdowns.

Those measures were eased in mid-December, but restaurants and bars are off limits for now and it is not clear when they might re-open, even if a Jan. 20 was initially floated as a target date.

Attal said it was unlikely that cinemas and concert halls would be able to re-open on Jan. 7. Cultural institutions in France had hoped to be able to open their doors again over Christmas, though the government rowed back on that idea before the festive season.

Attal conceded that France had had a slower start to its COVID vaccination campaign than other European countries, with under 200 doses administered since Sunday compared to tens of thousands elsewhere.

But he rejected criticism of the French approach, saying there was no shortage of vaccines, that the slow ramp-up was deliberate and that France would hit a target to vaccinate a million people by February.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Writing by Sarah White;Editing by Alison Williams and David Gregorio