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World News

French PM raises specter of reconfinement as COVID-19 cases rise

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s prime minister warned on Thursday that the government could be forced to reconfine areas if the number of COVID-19 cases did not improve in the coming weeks and defended tough restrictions taken on Wednesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a protective face mask, meets staff and parents during a visit to a center for Maternal and Child Protection (PMI) in Longjumeau, near Paris, France September 23, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

“It’s a race against time,” Jean Castex said on France 2 television. “The public must be attentive and prudent. If we don’t act we could find ourselves in a situation similar to spring.”

When asked whether France was heading towards a new confinement, Castex said the government did not want to, but left the door open if the situation worsened.

“It could mean reconfinement,” he said. “The measures we have taken are to anticipate.”

Health authorities reported 16,096 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, blowing away the previous record of 13,498 and setting a fourth all-time high of daily additional infections in eight days.

The soaring infection rate and, with it, the renewed strain on the French hospital system have prompted the government to announce extra restrictive measures on Wednesday, mainly in big cities, to contain the disease.

It ordered cafes and restaurants in Marseille to shut for two weeks and closed all gymnasiums from Saturday, after placing the city and surrounding region on the Mediterranean coast on the maximum alert level for the spread of the virus.

Tougher measures were also announced in Paris and in 10 other cities, including closing cafes and restaurants at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT).

The move has angered local politicians who fear the economic fallout and argue that the government has panicked in its decision making process.

“The hour is serious and we must act. We have to hope that the virus won’t last 30 years and that we’ll find a vaccine,” Castex said.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy

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