French Minister of Health Olivier Veran has been speaking at a press conference in Paris this evening to give an update on the coronavirus situation. He said that more than 45,000 people have tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours and the trend is accelerating almost everywhwere in France. The situation is most worrying in the Ile-de-France, the Hauts-de-France and the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur regions.
As expected, he confirmed that the departments of Nievre, Rhone and Aube will, from Friday evening at midnight, be subject to "reinforced braking measures", similar to the 16 departments announced last week. The measures will be in force in the three new departments for four weeks. He added that it is too early to decide if the measures introduced last week had been effective, saying that the first effects could be seen by this weekend "at best" or early next week.
He announced that 16 additional departments are being placed in "enhanced vigilance".
As regards schools, the Minister said that the closure of schools is a "last resort". He said that the virus can be transmitted in schools and reinforced protocols are being worked on with the Education Minister. Screening campaigns are also being carried out.
He said that pressure on hospitals is strong and will increase in the coming days. In the Ile-de-France 35-40% of activities have been cancelled, which will probably rise to 80% in the long term.
The Minister confirmed that vaccination will be open to people over 70 as from Saturday and they will have a choice of going to a pharmacy, their doctor or a local vaccination centre. A dedicated telephone service is being established for those over 75 who have not yet been able to be vaccinated. He added that nurses will now be able to prescribe vaccination. He called on health students and young retired health professionals to lend a hand in administering vaccines.
As regards the number of people vaccinated so far, he said that as of tonight the 7 million mark had been passed. Of those, more then 2.5 million have received their second injection. By mid-April more than 10 million people will have been vaccinated. 91% of vaccines delivered by Pfizer have been administered and the next deliveries are awaited.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex has described the third wave of the virus as being "extremely strong" in the Ile-de-France and added that the situation is "extremely worrying". Speaking during a visit to the intensive care unit of a hospital in the region this afternoon, he said that the patients in intensive care are becoming younger which he said shows that the virus and it's English variant affect the whole population.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot has said that she has been placed on reinforced oxygen therapy. The minister, who is being treated in hospital for Covid-19, said that she is being "taken care of by exceptional caregivers".
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi has said that the opening of a 5th vaccination center in Nice is being considered. He said that "the situation remains worrying but is improving".
The Cannes town hall has opened vaccination to Cannes residents aged 50 and over and has simplified the scheduling of appointments. You can get details on the municipal website www.cannes.com Until the end of April, 5,000 slots are open for a first injection of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
A high school in the Hautes-Alpes has been closed after 39 students tested positive for Covid-19. The students, along with four hundred contact cases, have gone into isolation and the school is expected to be closed until 2 April.
In other news, two police officers have been injured after they were pelted with projectiles in the Ariane district of Nice last night. The officers were part of a group of four officers who stopped a motorcyclist who wasn't wearing a crash helmet. The person who was the subject of the control was taken into custody. Deputy mayor of Nice Anthony Borre expressed his support for the police officers involved in the arrest.
Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi has said that, in order to preserve the purchasing power of the people of Nice, municipal tax rates will be maintained after several years of consecutive property tax cuts. However, he said that Nice will still be amongst the major cities in France with the lowest property tax.
Five new France Services offices have been opened in the Alpes-Maritimes to allow locals to access various government administrative services in a single place. Three have been opened in Nice, including one mobile office, as well as one in Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée and one in Menton. The objective is to increase the number of premises to 26 by the end of 2021 to ensure France Services coverage of the entire department.
Firefighters in the Alpes-Maritime have reminded people not to be concerned if they see Canadair water carrying planes in the skies. A training exercise is taking place in the department today.
The Monaco Municipal Council has unanimously approved twinning with the Italian municipality of Dolceacqua. The principles and objectives of this twinning will be the subject of a charter which must be approved by the Municipal Council of each of the municipalities, which is the final step before the celebration of the twinning. Monaco has also been twinned with the Corsican town of Lucciana since 2009 and the Belgian city of Ostend since 1958.
Santander has said that it will close 111 bank branches across the UK in response to what is said is "the ongoing shift by customers towards mobile and online banking". It said the majority of closing branches are under three miles from another Santander branch and all current and business account holders can also bank using one of over 11,000 Post Office branches nationwide. Affected staff will be able to combine working from home with access to local office spaces.
UK building society Nationwide is to allow 13,000 office staff to choose where they work under a new flexibility scheme. The building society said its "work anywhere" plan would allow employees more control of their lives. In a survey of its staff, 57% said they wanted to work from home full-time after lockdown ends and 36% said they preferred a mix of home and office-based work.
The owner of the large cargo ship that is blocking the Suez Canal has said that it's trying to refloat the ship but is "facing extreme difficulty". A Netherlands-based salvage company assisting the operation has warned that it could take weeks to dislodge the vessel and that it might be necessary to reduce its weight by removing containers, oil and water. Traffic through the canal has been temporarily suspended. About 12% of global trade passes through the canal.
Cinema operator Cineworld has said that group revenue fell to just over $852 million in 2020 compared to over $4.3 billion in 2019. The company made an operating loss of about $2.25 billion in 2020. In 2019 it made a profit of $724.7 million. The company said the global pandemic has significantly impacted the industry and all its sites have been temporarily closed since mid-March last year.
Olympics... The Olympic torch relay started in Japan earlier today. The torch will be carried by 10,000 runners across Japan over 121 days before the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony on 23 July.
Rugby Union... Scotland's Matt Fagerson won't be playing in tomorrow's Six Nations match against France after suffering an injury during training. Nick Haining will now start at number eight, with Ryan Wilson joining the replacements.
Former England player Danny Cipriani is joining Premiership side Bath on an extended one year contract that starts in May. He was previously with Gloucester and has also played for Wasps and Sale as well as a spell with Australian Super Rugby side Melbourne Rebels.
Football.... There are more World Cup qualifying games this evening including England against San Marino, Scotland against Austria, Italy against Northern Ireland and Germany against Iceland.