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Paris City Hall rows back on three-week lockdown proposal amid criticism

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By Sandrine Amiel
People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus walks at Trocadero plaza near Eiffel Tower in Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021
People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus walks at Trocadero plaza near Eiffel Tower in Paris, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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The Paris City Hall appeared to row back Friday on its proposal to lock down the French capital for three weeks after the idea sparked criticism.

Deputy-Mayor Emmanuel Grégoire said the measure would merely be "a hypothesis that we would like to discuss" and which could only be implemented at the broader level of the Ile-de-France region.

On Thursday, Gregoire had told the broadcaster France Info that the Paris City Hall preferred a short, full-scale lockdown with "the prospect of reopening everything in three weeks" rather than a weekend lockdown. The latter would be "very restrictive in terms of societal impact and not very effective in terms of health," the Deputy-Mayor said.

The announcement came after French Prime Minister Jean Castex said additional measures, such as weekend lockdowns, could be implemented in Paris and 19 other regions if the situation continued to worsen.

Tit-for-tat ahead of presidential race

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal slammed the City Hall's suggestion on Friday.

"There are very few scientists who consider that, with a three-week lockdown, we can defeat the virus and open everything," Attal told France Inter radio.

"Let's not play with French people's nerves," he added.

Socialist Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is a potential candidate for the presidential race in 2022 and a political adversary of President Emmanuel Macron.

Consultations with local officials

The controversy comes after regions around Dunkirk and Nice were this week placed on weekend lockdowns to push back against a spike in coronavirus cases.

"I asked the prefects to start consulting with elected officials in order (...) to consider, in all or part of these areas, protection measures similar to those implemented in Nice and Dunkirk," Prime Minister Castex said on Thursday.

The new restrictions, if confirmed, would enter into force on the weekend of March 6, he added.

“The health situation of our country has worsened in recent days,” Castex said, citing the circulation of new variants as the main reason.

The so-called British variant now makes up “about half” of positive cases, up from 40% last week.

On Wednesday, authorities reported another 31,519 new cases of COVID-19 - a steep rise from the 25,018 cases from a week ago and a record high since mid-November.

New figures released on Thursday evening were not as alarming, with 25,403 new infections according to a French government website.

France has so far managed to avoid a third national lockdown, opting instead for border restrictions and a 6 pm to 6 am curfew.