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AFP
January 25, 2021

France imposes border controls to avoid lockdown

World

AFP
January 25, 2021

PARIS/WASHINGTON: More than 25 million Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the United States since the pandemic began, Johns Hopkins University said on Sunday, just days after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The milestone was reached only five days after the US, the world’s wealthiest and hardest-hit nation, recorded 400,000 deaths from the disease. Biden has made fighting the coronavirus a priority and is pushing for Congress to approve a $1.9-trillion relief package that would include billions of dollars to boost vaccination rates.

Biden has said he wants 100 million people vaccinated within his first 100 days in office, and he has called for Americans to wear masks for 100 days. Border controls went into force in France on Sunday as part of a massive effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 and avoid another nationwide lockdown.

After a slow start to vaccinations, French health authorities reported that a million people had received coronavirus inoculations by Saturday. But stubbornly high new rates for infections, hospitalisations and Covid deaths fuelled fears France may need another full lockdown, which would be the third, inflicting yet more devastation on businesses and daily lives.

Starting on Sunday, arrivals to France from European Union countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours. The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January.

EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test. Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and sea ports from other EU countries every week, according to Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

Paris’s main international airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle has set up testing centres in a terminal dedicated to intra-EU flights to allow arriving passengers who failed to obtain a test in their country of origin to get one before passing immigration.

The French health agency on Saturday reported 23,924 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, and 321 new coronavirus deaths, taking the French death toll to 72,877. The total number of hospitalised Covid patients stood at 25,800, of whom nearly 2,900 were in intensive care.

Also by Saturday, one million people in France had received at least one anti-Covid jab, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, four weeks after kicking off the vaccination campaign, focusing first on people over 75 in care homes and health workers over 50.

Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said she was "reasonably confident" France would meet its target of vaccinating 15 million people by the end of June, adding more than 1.9 million vaccine doses had been received to date. Health Minister Oliver Veran meanwhile warned that if current measures, including a nationwide daily curfew starting at 6:00 pm, prove insufficient, another lockdown can not be ruled out.

"We need the curfew to show results," Veran said. "In a best-case scenario, we will manage to diminish the pressure of the epidemic. If not, we will not wait for the month of March before acting," he told Le Parisien newspaper.

France went into lockdown twice in 2020, the first time between March and May and then October to December.Meanwhile, the emirate of Dubai has said it was slowing down its rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine due to a temporary delay in global deliveries.

Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, began mass inoculations in December after the approval of vaccines by Chinese firm Sinopharm and US drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

According to health officials, the UAE has already vaccinated over two million of its approximately 10 million population -- one of the highest rate in the world. On Saturday, the Dubai Health Authority said it will scale back on vaccinations after Pfizer announced in mid-January shipment delays for up to a month due to works at its key plant in Belgium.

"DHA is working on rescheduling the first dose of the Covid-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine," it said on Twitter. "The manufacturer has announced the expansion of the vaccine production capacity, which has temporarily affected several countries globally." It added, however, that all those scheduled to take their second dose of the vaccine should still show up for their appointments.

While other tourist destinations are applying tight restrictions to control the pandemic, Dubai reopened to visitors in July, despite a sharp spike in cases. But the glitzy emirate clamped down on its entertainment last week and also suspended non-essential surgery in hospitals after a surge in Covid-19 infections since the New Year.