© Reuters. French Prime Minister Jean Castex gives a press conference in Paris
By Geert De Clercq and Matthias Blamont PARIS (Reuters) – France will strengthen border controls and advance its two-hour night curfew to 6 p.m. for at least 15 days, while trying to slow the spread of coronavirus infections, the government said Thursday. . France has the seventh highest death toll in the world and the government is particularly concerned about the most transmissible variant of coronavirus first detected in Britain, which now accounts for around 1% of new cases. The revised curfew will go into effect on Saturday. Starting Monday, all people traveling to France from outside the European Union will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test and self-isolate for one week upon arrival. A new protocol for EU countries will be worked out before the European summit on January 21, Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a press conference. “We must do everything we can to prevent this variant from spreading and ensure that it does not become the dominant variant,” Castex said. The epidemic has killed almost 70,000 people in France. Pressure on the hospital system remains high, but is not getting worse, the prime minister said. This month, the government had advanced the curfew in 15 administrative departments. In those areas, Castex said, the increase in new cases was two to three times weaker than in other parts of the country. “The situation does not require us to impose a new blockade,” Castex said. But he said the government would rush to order a new lockdown if the epidemic worsened. France will screen more than 1 million schoolchildren a month to help keep schools open. Sanitary protocols in school cafeterias will be tightened and indoor school sports will be suspended. The vaccine launch is being further expanded to include citizens of any age with underlying health problems, Castex said. France was slower than neighbors like Britain and Germany to deploy the vaccine. Health Minister Olivier Veran said at the press conference that some 318,000 people had been vaccinated and that the country was on track to administer more than 1 million COVID-19 injections by the end of the month. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said financial support for companies was increasing to € 200,000 per month and would last as long as necessary. He said the additional support would cost € 4 billion a month. Businesses that had received state-guaranteed loans would get an extra year to pay them back, he said.