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French PM: Coronavirus spread may get harder to control

PARIS (Reuters) - The renewed spread of coronavirus in France could become harder to control without a collective effort to stop a rise in the infection rate, its prime minister said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: French Prime Minister Jean Castex delivers his speech to unveil the new government policy at the National Assembly in Paris, France, July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The public was becoming careless, Jean Castex warned, speaking shortly before health authorities said new daily infections were up by 1,397 over 24 hours, almost twice as much as Monday, to reach 204,172.

“If we don’t act collectively, we expose ourselves to the heightened risk that the rebound in the epidemic becomes hard to control,” Castex said during a visit to a hospital intensive care ward in southern France.

A health ministry statement also reported 15 new deaths in hospital due the disease, compared to an increase of 16 over a three-day period between Monday and Saturday, with the total death toll standing at 30,354.

France’s 7-day moving average of new infections climbed to 1,691 on Tuesday from 1,056 on July 31. The 7-day measure reached a post lockdown low of 272 on May 27, a little over two weeks after France eased one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.

But as in most neighbouring European countries, new clusters have mushroomed as people let their hair down on holiday, families hold reunions and workers return to offices and France is desperate to avoid another full-scale lockdown.

Britain has said it will not hesitate putting more countries on its quarantine list, including France, where hordes of Britons spend their summer vacations.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron held a video conference with top ministers from his Riviera summer retreat.

During the meeting, it was decided France would draw up new restrictions for the 20 largest cities to curb the rising infection rate and that a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people would be extended until Oct. 31.

Some cities have already taken action. Paris on Monday joined Toulouse, Lille, Biarritz and others in imposing a mandatory face mask order in crowded outdoor zones. They are already compulsory nationwide in shops and banks.

The prime minister said testing was “more than satisfactory”, with more than 600,000 tests being conducted weekly, but said more could still be done to target those with symptoms, the prime minister said.

Talking of the risk of another lockdown, Castex said: “no one wants to live through that again.”

Later, on a visit to a Mediterranean seaside resort, Castex said he had started talks with employers and unions with a view to making mask-wearing in workplaces as widespread as possible.

Hospitals are not at this stage overwhelmed by the uptick in the disease, as the number treated for the infection fell by 33, to 5,012, after rising on Monday for the first time in 10 weeks. The total of COVID-19 hospitalisations reached a peak of 32,292 on April 14.

Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Matthieu Protard and Henri-Pierre Andre; writing by Richard Lough, Editing by William Maclean

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