France tightens coronavirus curfew as illegal rave parties snub law enforcers

People dancing during a party in a disused hangar in Lieuron, south of Rennes, on Jan 1, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - The French government on Friday (Jan 1) announced that it was bringing forward by two hours the night time curfew in 15 regions to help combat the coronavirus, as infections remain high.

The 15 of France's 101 departments affected by the switch to a curfew beginning at 6pm rather than 8pm include the Les Alpes-Maritimes department where the Mediterranean city of Nice is located.

The other areas are concentrated in the east of the country and Paris has, for now, been spared the additional restriction.

"The virus is continuing to spread in France... but with a disparity between regions," said government spokesman Gabriel Attal as he announced the move.

"If the situation were to deteriorate further in certain areas, we will take the necessary decisions," he told TF1 broadcaster.

The measure had been urged by mayors increasingly concerned that their local health systems are being overburdened by an influx of new cases.

Attal also confirmed that theatres, cinemas and concert halls would not be able to reopen from Jan 7, the most recent minimum date given for their closure.

Attal meanwhile defended the pace of France's campaign to vaccinate against Covid-19, which TF1 noted has seen just 332 people vaccinated in the country so far compared with over 130,000 in Germany since it began last weekend.

Arguing that France was targeting its campaign on care homes for the elderly which took more time, he said: "We are not going to judge a vaccination campaign that will last six months in just a few days".

In the northwestern French region of Brittany, police failed to stop some 2,500 party-goers attending an illegal New Year rave in northwestern France, sparking concerns that the underground event could spread the coronavirus, authorities said Friday.

The revellers had set up the illegal rave in Lieuron south of Rennes in Brittany after skirmishes with police, said a statement from the local prefecture. Many were still on the site Friday as a sanitary cordon was thrown up around it.

Local gendarmes or police tried to "prevent this event but faced fierce hostility from many party-goers" who set one of their cars of fire and threw bottles and stones, it said.

Those present had come from across France and even abroad, it said.

Such mass gatherings are strictly prohibited across France to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and a nationwide curfew applies across the country. Reports said that the rave party took place in an empty warehouse belonging to a storage company.

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the illegal organisation of a musical gathering and pre-meditated violence against law enforcers.

Vehicles registered from all over France were still parked at the site Friday and many revellers were present as techno music thudded away, an AFP journalist said.

Participants interviewed by AFP said that the revellers had included partygoers from foreign countries, including Spain and Britain.

One participant, who gave his name as Jo from the Alsace region of eastern France and refused to be identified further, said they had all met at a meeting point on Thursday evening in the parking lot of a shopping centre.

Then the convoy headed for Lieuron where the police tried to prevent them from passing, he said.

He acknowledged that "very few had respected social distancing" at the event, which was supposed only to end later on Saturday.

French authorities have been particularly concerned about mass wildcat rave parties throughout the pandemic but New Year's night was a particular concern.

In the southern city of Marseille, security forces halted an illegal party grouping some 300 people, police said. Over 150 people were warned and the three suspected organisers have been arrested.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that 132,000 police had been deployed across France for the New Year celebrations to ensure security and that the curfew was respected.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.