French Health Minister Olivier Veran has been giving an update on the coronavirus situation at a press conference this evening. He said that hospital admissions remain fairly stable at this point. He said that "we hope to gain enough time to avoid confinement" and the next few weeks will tell us if the current measures are sufficient. He added that confinement has been ruled out at this stage.
He said that there are three variants, all more contagious than the original virus. He said that the vaccines that are available are very effective against the British variant which he said accounts for 20 to 25% of coronavirus infections in France at the moment. He said the South African and Brazilian variants can re-infect people who have already had Covid-19 but the spreading of those two variants "is not yet inevitable". The two variants account for about 4 to 5 per cent nationally but there is a great variation between departments - in some there is no trace of them but in others there are a few dozen cases. However, in the Moselle there have been more than 300 cases suggestive of the two variants in the past four days. He said the situation in the department is "worrying" and he will be going there tomorrow.
The Prefect of the Alpes Maritimes has drawn attention to the extension of the requirement to wear a mask in public places to two further municipalities in the department. A new decree makes the wearing of a mask compulsory in certain areas of Ascros and Isola.
Another major event on the Riviera has been postponed because of the health situation. The organizers of CANNESERIES have announced that Season 4 will take place from October 8 to 13 this year in Cannes and online. It was due to take place in April. The Cannes Film Festival has already been postponed and will take place this year in July instead of its usual time in May.
A case of the South African variant of the coronavirus has been reported in a school in Gap in the Hautes-Alpes. Two classes at the school have been closed in addition to a local college as a preventative measure.
French Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne has called for "remobilization" on remote working. She called it "a very good tool to fight against the spread of the virus". Speaking on French television this morning she said that seventy per cent of employees "who can easily telework" were doing so last November and sixty-four per cent of those are still teleworking.
The Health Ministry has reached a new agreement with public service hospital unions. From June, a pay increase will be given to 18,000 medico-social professionals attached to health establishments and public nursing homes. The payments are part of the French government's Segur de la Sante, under which 19 billion euros of investment is being made in the health system to improve patient care and the daily lives of caregivers as well as 8.2 billion euros per year to upgrade the professions of health establishments and elderly care homes.
Searches have been underway after a large avalanche in the Hautes-Alpes this morning. An avalanche about 200 metres wide and 20 metres high occurred at about 5am near the village of La Grave between Grenoble and the Italian border. Firefighters have been using drones to survey the area but it's believed there have been no casualties, thanks largely to the early hour at which the avalanche occurred. However, local reports say that there has been significant structural damage with a bridge, electricity lines and water distribution infrastructure being swept away.
Cold weather continues to affect much of France. A total of over 30 departments are under Meteo France orange level alerts for snow and ice or for very cold conditions.
The Var department has opened applications for projects designed to promote local, fresh, healthy and affordable food. Grants totalling €270,000 are being made available in the Var as part of the recovery plan implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The closing date for applications is September 15, 2021. You can find further deatils on the Prefecture's website var.gouv.fr
The Minister for the Sea was in La Seyne-sur-mer this morning. Annick Girardin visited the local lifeboat station with the Maritime Prefect Laurent Isnard where they met volunteers involved in the operation of the station.
Public parks and gardens have been closed today in Frejus because of high winds in the area.
Royal Dutch Shell has unveiled its plans to be a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050. The target covers emissions from its operations and the emissions from the use of all the energy products the company sells. It also includes emissions from the oil and gas that others produce and Shell then sells as products to customers. It confirmed that its total oil production peaked in 2019.
New figures show that unemployment is still at a high level in Greece, several years after the financial crisis which affected the country. The unemployment rate was 16.2% in November, down slightly from October's rate of 16.7%.
Pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca has reported an increase in profits in 2020. Pre tax profit was 3.9 billion dollars compared to 1.5 billion in 2019. Revenues increased by about ten per cent to 26.6 billion dollars. The company has said that it will provide coronavirus vaccines at cost during the pandemic.
Tennis..... Rafael Nadal is through to the next round of the Australian Open with a 6-1 6-4 6-2 win against American qualifier Michael Mmoh. Nadal will meet Britain's Cameron Norrie, who also won his match today, in the next round. Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas won his match today as did third seed Daniil Medvedev. Ashleigh Barty is through to the next round as are Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina.
Rugby Union...England's starting XV for Saturday's Six Nations match against Italy has been announced. Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes and George Ford will all return. There is also a start for Luke Cowan-Dickie, with Jamie George on the bench. Scotland have made three changes for their game against Wales at Murrayfield. Jamie Ritchie, Sean Maitland and Cameron Redpath drop out of the team that beat England and are replaced by Blade Thomson, James Lang and Darcy Graham.
Cricket.... Liam Livingstone has been named in England's Twenty20 squad for next month's tour of India. Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes are included, but Joe Root isn't in the squad.