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France enters partial lockdown as hospital pressure reaches new highs

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Nurses tend to a Covid-19 patient under respiratory assistance lying unconscious in the intensive care unit of the Hopital Prive hospital in Antony, France, April 2, 2021.
Nurses tend to a Covid-19 patient under respiratory assistance lying unconscious in the intensive care unit of the Hopital Prive hospital in Antony, France, April 2, 2021.   -   Copyright  CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP
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France on Sunday entered a four-week partial lockdown nationwide as pressure on hospitals continued to rise amid a deadly third wave of coronavirus.

With a new variant spreading fast and intensive care units as full as they were last April, the government closed all schools and imposed stricter new rules.

They include a ban on travelling more than 10 kilometres from home, the closure of non-essential businesses, a ban on outdoor gatherings of more than six people and a continued 7pm curfew.

Hospitals ordered to bring in extra-staff

Bracing for more COVID-19 patients arriving over the weekend, hospitals across hard-hit northern France were ordered to bring in extra staff.

France on Saturday reported 5,273 patients in intensive care, one of the highest levels recorded since April last year.

Hospital admissions continued to rise, with a total of 28,886 patients on Saturday, French public health authorities said.

France has reported one of the world's highest reported COVID-19 death tolls at 96,280 people and the highest number of confirmed cases in Europe.

Vaccination campaign ramps up

Meanwhile, the government is trying to speed up France’s vaccination efforts after a slow start marred by vaccine delays and logistical problems.

People lined up at a stadium in Lyon on Saturday to get vaccinated, and other vaccination centres around the country were stepping up injections throughout the holiday period.

The French military announced that it would open seven vaccination centres starting Tuesday to help vaccinate civilians.

While France remains behind Britain and the United States in terms of vaccinating its population, the pace is starting to pick up.

France has administered 12 million vaccine doses overall, including nearly one million in the last three days, according to government figures.

'Tolerance' for travel

In Paris, police said Saturday they were deploying 6,600 officers to enforce the new virus restrictions.

However, authorities said they would show “tolerance” over the Easter weekend to allow parents to arrange for child care or to allow city dwellers to travel to the countryside to settle in for a month of lockdown restrictions.

As a result, crowds packed Paris-area train stations starting Friday night, and the SNCF national rail authority said it was expecting 600,000 people to travel over the weekend.

Elsewhere in Europe

Europe faced its second Easter in a row under the cloud of the pandemic.

Italy entered a three-day nationwide coronavirus lockdown Saturday to deter Easter travel and get-togethers.

Travel between regions and visits to relatives were being limited through Monday. Nonessential shops were closed and restaurants and bars were only open for take-out.

Vaccinations went forward on Easter Sunday in Italy and were planned for Monday, a national holiday.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens to respect social distancing and other rules over Easter.

The head of the Robert Koch Institute has warned that the country is seeing a third surge in infections fueled by more contagious virus variants that have come to dominate the outbreak in Germany.

"There needs to be a quiet Easter festival," Merkel said in a video address on Thursday. "I urgently ask you to refrain from all non-urgent travel (and) that we all consistently follow the rules."