France imposes earlier curfew in 15 departments from Saturday

PARIS: France will impose an earlier curfew in 15 northeastern and southeastern departments from Saturday to combat the spread of the coronavirus, starting at 6 pm instead of 8 pm, the government said on Friday.

"We are taking a decision for 15 departments. In a week's time we will assess the impact of this earlier curfew on these 15 departments, on the circulation of the virus elsewhere in the country," government spokesman Gabriel Attal told TF1 television.

"Obviously if the situation were to deteriorate futher in some regions, we would take the necessary decisions. The measures are incremental and can of course - in principle - go as far a lockdown," he added.

France has the highest COVID-19 cases count in Western Europe and the fifth in the world, with 2,620,425 in total. The death toll is 64,632.

It has already brought in two national lockdowns. Those measures were eased in mid-December, but restaurants and bars are off limits for now and it is not clear when they might re-open, although January 20 was initially floated as a target date.

Attal reiterated on Friday that cultural venues would not re-open on January 7.

The health ministry reported 19,927 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on Thursday, below Wednesday's more than one-month high of 26,457 but still far from the government's target of less than 5,000 daily additional infections.