PARIS (AFP, XINHUA) - France has not ruled out imposing a third nationwide lockdown if coronavirus cases continue to rise, its health minister said on Sunday (Dec 27), as the country braces for a possible post-Christmas spike.
"We will never exclude measures that are necessary to protect the public," Dr Olivier Veran told the Journal du Dimanche.
"That is not to say we have made a decision, but that we are watching the situation hour by hour," he added.
France has been registering around 15,000 new infections per day, and last Friday confirmed the first case of a new coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain.
The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on the United Kingdom.
France is to start its vaccination campaign on Sunday. The first 19,500 vaccine doses arrived early on Saturday morning, under gendarmerie escort - a military force dedicated to imposing domestic order - at the central pharmacy of Public Assistance-Paris Hospitals in the Paris suburbs, and doses for other sites were also delivered during the day, reported local media.
A dozen residents aged over 75 as well as a caregiver over 65 years of age will be vaccinated at a hospital in north Paris on Sunday morning, to symbolically mark the start of vaccination across countries of the European Union, according to reports.
The vaccine doses will then be deployed in around 20 institutions for the elderly next week. For some 7,000 nursing homes and other establishments for the elderly across the country, vaccination for residents and their caregivers will start on a large scale at the beginning of 2021.
Under the government plan, about a million people will be offered the vaccine during the first stage of the campaign over January and February.
The campaign, already under spotlight as the country is concerned about a new epidemic wave after the year-end holidays, is seen as a "window of hope" after a first case of the new coronavirus variant was confirmed on French soil.
The case was confirmed in Tours last Friday in a French citizen who had arrived from London on Dec 19 and was "taken into care" in hospital two days later. He is asymptomatic and has been isolated at his home, the health ministry said.
"The health authorities have carried out contact-tracing of health professionals who have taken care of the patient and are searching for his contacts," said the ministry.
France has reported a total of 2,550,864 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 62,573 deaths, according to health authorities.
According to the website of the World Health Organisation, as at Dec 22, there were 233 Covid-19 candidate vaccines being developed worldwide, and 61 of them were in clinical trials.
A couple of vaccines developed by pharmaceutical companies from the United States, Germany, Russia and China have so far been authorised by several countries and regions for emergency use.