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AFP
February 25, 2021

France flags new restrictions

World

AFP
February 25, 2021

PARIS: France may need to impose new local restrictions to deal with a worsening Covid-19 situation as it scrambles to avoid a new national lockdown, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.

Infections have reached worrying levels in several parts of the country, spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting. The warning comes only days after the French Riviera was ordered into lockdown for the coming two weekends to contain Covid-19 which has been spreading faster in the tourist hotspot than elsewhere in France, and border controls were tightened.

Attal said similar moves could become necessary elsewhere because of “a worsening situation” that he said “requires rapid and strong measures”. There are expectations that the northern coastal city of Dunkirk might be next on the list for fresh restrictions after the infection rate there went over 900 for 100,000 people, close to nine times the national average.

Health Minister Olivier Veran was expected to travel to Dunkirk later on Wednesday. Around 10 of France’s 102 territorial areas known as departments were now in a “very worrying situation”, Attal said.

“We must continue all our efforts to avoid having to impose another national lockdown,” he said. There was “obviously” no certainty that such a drastic measure could be avoided, he said, warning that the government would not hesitate to order such a move if it was deemed necessary.

Prime Minister Jean Castex will host a news conference to update the country on the Covid situation on Thursday, Attal said.Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lambasted the West for failing to unite globally in the fight against the pandemic and its economic fallout, in an address to the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

In his speech to the United Nations’ human rights body, Lavrov criticised the West for refusing to suspend sanctions in the wake of the global economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Unfortunately, despite the pandemic and the apparent need to consolidate our efforts, some of our Western counterparts refuse to reconsider their selfish ways and abandon their coercive approaches and unlawful methods of intimidation and pressure,” he said by video link.

He accused Western countries of having a “desire to take advantage of the pandemic to punish ‘undesirable’ governments”. The European Union this week agreed to impose sanctions on four Russian officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The move has further strained relations between Moscow and the West, which have seen tensions at their highest since the end of the Cold War. The EU and the United States have hit Russia with a series of sanctions since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

In recent weeks, Ukraine as well as Latvia, another former Soviet country, have banned a number of pro-Russian television channels. Lavrov in his speech slammed the moves, describing them as “political censorship”.

“Those who for decades have been preaching about freedom of speech and expression to the whole world are now demonstrating intolerance of alternative views,” he said. The Russian foreign minister also laid into social media platforms, which he said “openly manipulate public opinion by banning or censoring user content at their own discretion”.

Russia last year cleared the way for regulators to block internet platforms like Facebook and Youtube if they are deemed to have censored content produced by Russians.