PARIS 

Amid widespread criticism that weekend lockdowns were a harsh measure, the French government has backtracked on its proposal to confine Paris and other big cities at risk, instead choosing to shut down large commercial spaces to slow down the circulation of the COVID-19 virus.  

Announcing the new measure at a weekly press conference Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex said only large shopping centers of more than 10,000 square meters will have to keep their doors closed in the at-risk departments. These include large parts of the Ile-de-France region like Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis and Essonne and cities like Lyon and Marseille. An additional 135,000 vaccine doses will be allocated in these 23 departments under reinforced surveillance, he said.  

Following Castex’s announcement last week to confine people during the weekends, councilors and mayors in Paris objected to the plan, describing it as inhuman and harsh for millions of residents living in cramped housing conditions.  

In addition to Nice, Cannes and Dunkirk, where the weekend lockdown is in effect, Pas-de-Calais has been added to the list due to a high incidence rate of infection — 406 weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants as against the national average of 250 cases.  

Overall, new infections continue to rise gradually, with the UK variant constituting 60% of the total cases in France, Castex said.  

“The circulation of the virus has continued to progress, but there is no exponential increase in the epidemic,” he added.  

Thursday’s data from health authorities recorded 25,279 new cases and 293 deaths.  

The government is hoping with an accelerated vaccination pace in the coming weeks and milder weather that it can start reopening restaurants, cultural places and cinema halls which have remained shut down since October. It also hopes to inoculate 20 million people by mid-May.  

It is banking on a diversified strategy which includes pharmacies and family doctors who will be allowed to start administering vaccines from this month.  

Similarly, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was earlier restricted to people below 64 years old, has now been made eligible for those aged between 65 and 74 years.  

Presently, 3.2 million people have been vaccinated, of which 1.8 million have already received their second doses.

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