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Coronavirus: Next round of French easing in jeopardy as new daily cases remain too high

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French Director General of Health Jerome Salomon.
French Director General of Health Jerome Salomon.   -   Copyright  Geoffroy van Der Hasselt, Pool via AP
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France's next round of easing of COVID-19 restrictions planned for mid-December appears uncertain as new daily infections remain much higher than the government-imposed threshold.

The country has been under a second national lockdown since October 31 but non-essential shops were allowed to reopen since the last weekend of November.

The next round of easing — which would see the need to fill in a form to leave the house abolished and the reopening of cinemas, theatres, and museums — is planned for December 15 on the condition that the number of new daily infections is by then no higher than 5,000.

But Jerome Salomon, the country's Director-General of Health, warned on Monday evening that "for the past few days now, the level of daily infections has not fallen and remains particularly high in people over the age of 75."

Only 3,400 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed on Monday but the numbers communicated by authorities on the first day of the week tend to be lower as fewer people get tested over the weekend as most laboratories are shut.

Over the previous five days, new daily cases oscillated between 11,000 and 14,000.

Salomon stressed that "if current conditions continue, it will be very difficult to achieve this goal" of 5,000 new infections per day. Currently, he said, the seven-day incidence rate is higher than 100 on average across the country, and reaching as high as 150 in some _départements. _

He blamed the lack of progress in recent days not on a supposed slackening of social distancing measures but on the winter season which is "conducive to viral epidemics" as people are forced indoors.

More than 66.4 million people worldwide have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic and over 1.5 million have lost their lives to it, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The 31 countries making up the EU/EEA and the UK account for nearly 350,000 deaths and more than 14 million infections.

France is the third most-heavily impacted country in the region after the UK and Italy, with more than 55,000 fatalities and nearly 2.3 million confirmed cases.