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France 'still far' from ending partial COVID-19 lockdown

Declines in daily new COVID-19 cases since a second nationwide lockdown began on 30 October have sparked a chorus of calls from business associations to let stores open as soon as 27 November for the 'Black Friday' sales that kick off the holiday shopping season.

This picture shows a screen displaying French President Emmanuel Macron as he addresses the nation during a televised interview from the Elysee Palace concerning the situation of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in France, in Paris on 14 October 2020. Picture: AFP

PARIS - French authorities are unlikely to lift a partial coronavirus lockdown any time soon, a government spokesperson said Wednesday, even if some restrictions may be relaxed before Christmas.

President Emmanuel Macron and top ministers discussed the crisis, including whether to ease some restrictions from 1 December "if conditions allow it," spokesperson Gabriel Attal said.

But Attal insisted: "We're not at all near ending the lockdown, we're still far from it even."

Declines in daily new COVID-19 cases since a second nationwide lockdown began on 30 October have sparked a chorus of calls from business associations to let stores open as soon as 27 November for the "Black Friday" sales that kick off the holiday shopping season.

If not, they fear losing out to internet giants such as Amazon, expected to target stuck-at-home shoppers.

"Our fear is simple: The loss of many of our businesses, both small and large, and with them hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country," dozens of business leaders wrote to Prime Minister Jean Castex this week.

The French mayors' association AMF also called Wednesday for a gradual reopening of stores soon, "to avoid a rush of clients ahead of Christmas, when allowing them to resume operations will be inevitable."

But Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Wednesday called on retailers - including e-commerce firms - to postpone the Black Friday bargain extravaganza.

Macron himself is again expected to address the nation on the virus crisis next week, in particular on prospects for travel and family gatherings for the fast-approaching holiday break.

But officials are wary of taking a "stop and go" approach to fighting the outbreak even if the pandemic slows, since hospitals remain packed with COVID-19 patients.

Health authorities reported Tuesday 437 coronavirus deaths in the preceding 24 hours, and a total of 4,854 patients in intensive care.

This meant nearly 96% of intensive care beds available before the crisis erupted are now full - though the government has scrambled to make new ones available.

The number of daily new infections on Tuesday stood at 12,587, far below the 50,000 to 60,000 when Macron announced the new partial lockdown last month.

But Macron said the number of daily cases must fall below 5,000 before the government could start significantly easing the latest restrictions.

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