Castex - The French Prime Minister Jean Castex has expressed his deep concern at the number of coronavirus infections in 20 departments of the country and the spread of the new British variant. Speaking at a press conference last night, Mr Castex said that the 20 departments including the Var would be put on “heightened surveillance” and that a decision as to whether impose fresh restrictions including weekend lockdowns would be taken in the middle of next week. The Prime Minister warned that time would be necessary to allow vaccines to take their effect and that at the moment there was no possibility of relaxing restrictions and opening up society again. The new British variant of the virus is now accounting for 50 percent of all new cases which Mr Castex said is “particularly alarming”.
Overcapacity - The head of the Nice University Hospital geriatric unit has warned that many vital operations may have to be cancelled if admissions for coronavirus continue to rise. Professor Olivier Guerin, who’s also a member of the French Scientific Council says that a level 5 health alert should be declared and that the situation must not be allowed to reach the levels of March last year. The professor says that operations for cancers and other life threatening conditions will have to be cancelled if hospital beds are being occupied by coronavirus patients. There have already been some patient transfers from hospitals in the Alpes Maritimes to other parts of France to reduce the strain on Intensive Care Units.
Alert - The PACA region has been placed on a level 2 air pollution alert. A number of factors have contributed to the poor air quality including high levels of fine sand particles swept up from the Sahara Desert which caused an episode of sea mist in coastal areas on Thursday as well as industrial production and transport exhaust fumes. The forecast is for the pollution to intensify today owing to very light winds. Health experts have warned the elderly and people suffering from conditions such as heart disease and asthma not to over exert themselves and parents of young children should take extra care. Motorists are asked to leave their cars at home if possible and those who must drive should take their foot off the gas.
Markets closed - Nice City Council has ordered the closure of four markets as part of efforts to reduce the spread of Covid -19. The markets which mainly sell textiles are not considered to be essential and will close until further notice. Markets at l’Ariane, Bon Voyage, Charles Ehrmann and les Moulins will all close from this evening. Coronavirus infection rates in the affected areas are among the highest anywhere in the city.
Births down - The birthrate in France fell by 13 percent in January compared with the same month in 2020. The National Statistics Office INSEE says that January’s figures represent the lowest birthrate in the country since 1975 and has put the fall down to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and economic uncertainty. Babies born in January were conceived at the start of the first lockdown period in March 2020 with the health crisis dissuading couples to start a family or have more children.
Anti-plastic drive - The French supermarket chain Auchan has started a drive to reduce the amount of plastic packaging it uses. The firm is to stop using plastic trays at its meat and fish counters and replace them with containers made from vegetable fibre. The new containers are 100 percent biodegradable and can also be added to compost. The firm also says that the switch will allow meat and fish products to be stored for a longer period of time which will cut down on food waste.
Worker electrocuted - An EDF worker has suffered severe burns after the cage that he was working in came into contact with a high tension power line of 20,000 volts. The accident happened on the route de Marchandise in Roquebrune sur Argens in the Var on Thursday. The man is receiving treatment at the Bonnet Hospital in Frejus where his condition is described as critical.
Lockdown - And if you weren’t aware or have been on the Moon, the Alpes Maritimes is moving into a weekend lockdown from 6pm this evening until 6am on Monday. Anyone wishing to go out during the lockdown will need to fill in a form to justify their presence on the roads or in the streets. Shopping for essential items is allowed and a number of stores such as garden centres, garages, car hire firms and tobacconists will be open. Exercise is permitted for one hour, no more than 5 kilometers from home and medical appointments can be honoured. Walking domestic pets is allowed and people can travel if they have a reservation for a holiday break booked.
The new attestation derogatoire has, at the time of writing, still not been published. The public is advised to keep checking the French Interior Ministry website https://www.interieur.gouv.fr/ or the Alpes Maritimes prefecture website https://www.alpes-maritimes.gouv.fr/.
Weekly jobless claims in the United States have fallen more than expected but the near term outlook for the labor market looks uncertain following the winter storms that caused chaos in the south of the country in the middle of the month. The Labor Department says that initial claims for state unemployment benefit totaled a seasonally adjusted 730,000 for the week ending February the 20th. That compares with 841,000 the previous week. US unemployment claims have been out of sync with the recent overall improvement in economic conditions as the winter coronavirus wave recedes and pandemic relief government funds start to filter through. Daily Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations have dropped to levels last seen before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays while retail sales rose by the most in 7 months in January.
The pharmaceutical giant Moderna says that it expects Covid-19 vaccine sales to top 18.4 billion dollars this year, higher than the 15 billion forecast by rival Pfizer. So far, the two vaccines are the only to be approved for use in the United States. Both vaccines, which are based on technology using messenger rybo-nucleic acid are being distributed at unprecedented speed in America as cases of the virus grow and deaths exceeded the grim milestone of 500,000. Moderna has been ramping up production and aims to produce at least 700 million doses this year, increasing to 1 billion in 2022.
The UK supermarket chain Asda says that it’s begun consulting its workforce over a major restructuring programme which could result in the loss of 5,000 jobs. Proposed cuts would come in areas like cash management where there is less work available as customers switch to online grocery shopping. Two online only stores could also be closed as the firm changes to use regular shops to collect goods for home delivery. There are also plans to change some 1,100 store management roles. Asda’s chief executive Roger Burnley said that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated change across the retail sector especially in the shift to online shopping for home grocery deliveries. He said that businesses had to be ready to adapt quickly and that he was proud of the way that Asda has demonstrated its agility and resilience through the pandemic.
Cricket - India have thrashed England by 10 wickets inside two days in the Third Test in Ahmedabad. England could put up little resistance with the bat as they were bowled out for a record low score in India of just 81 in their second innings leaving the home side to cruise to victory chasing the modest total of 49. The pitch conditions have been criticised for giving too much advantage to the spinners but England’s batting in particular left a lot to be desired. India lead the series 2-1 with one to play.
Football - In the Europa League last night Arsenal beat Benfica 3-2 to make the last 16. Leicester lost 2-0 at home to Slavia Prague and are out. Manchester United drew 0-0 with Real Sociadad but take the tie 4-0 on aggregate and Rangers beat Royal Antwerp 5-2 on the night to move into the next phase 9-5 on aggregate.
In the English Premier League this weekend, on Saturday Manchester City play West Ham. West Brom face Brighton. Leeds play Aston Villa and Newcastle play Wolves. On Sunday Crystal Palace play Fulham. Leicester meet Arsenal. Spurs play Burnley. Chelsea face Manchester United and Sheffield United play Liverpool. Everton play Southampton on Monday.
Rugby Union - The third round of the 6 Nations is being played this weekend but Sunday’s game between France and Scotland has been called off after all, after an 11th French player tested positive for coronavirus. It’s not yet clear when the match will be played as the fallow week next weekend would not allow several France players who are currently isolating to be available in time.
Wales can secure the Triple Crown if they beat England in Cardiff tomorrow. Kick off is at 5.45 while Italy host Ireland at 3.15.
There’s one game in the Gallagher Premiership tonight. Sale play Exeter.
In the Guinness Pro 14 Benetton play Connacht. Cardiff Blues play Munster and Ulster play Ospreys.
Formula 1 - Max Verstappen says that he’s “realistic” about his title chances this season. The Red Bull driver said that he did not wish to “hype things up” after driving the new car for the first time at Silvestone. Verstappen said that the car felt “normal” on his first few laps but it was too soon to say whether it would be competitive. The 23-year-old finished third in the drivers’ championship last season behind Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Hazy sunshine with light variable winds. Top temperatures 14-16 degrees. Overnight lows of 9 degrees with cloudy skies.
The weekend - Mainly fine with highs of 14-16 degrees.