PM - The French Prime Minister has given a press conference to explain the government's next steps in the easing of coronavirus restrictions. Jean Castex said that the government would be taking a phased and progressive approach. He was speaking after Wednesday‘s meeting of the French cabinet in Paris and said that President Macron would explain more this coming Friday. On the subject of the curfew, Mr Castex said the government intended to end restrictions but would reserve the right to reimpose stricter measures should the virus show signs of running out of control again. Reports in French media say that could mean curfew restrictions being lifted at the start of June. Mr Castex also said that the government was working on plans for a health pass to allow people to travel overseas to countries that will be accepting foreign visitors. The Prime Minister said there are clear signs that the battle to control the virus is being won and that the national R rate has dropped to 0.89 over the past week.
Vaccines – The government says that it will not yet allow any adult to be vaccinated against COVID-19 despite take up falling short in many areas of the country. The news has prompted criticism from opposition politicians with the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo questioning why the government was sticking to its plan when there were clearly many people who wish to be vaccinated but are not yet eligible. Take up for vaccines, particularly the Astrazeneca jab has been slow in many areas after fears were raised over the possibility of blood clots. Vaccination for all over 50s is set to start on May the 15th with younger age groups being called later in the summer. The latest statistics show that by next week more than 70% of the over 60s will have been vaccinated.
Red Brigades - French authorities have arrested seven Italian far-left guerrilla fighters who escaped terrorism convictions at home by fleeing the country. The seven are reported to have been hiding out in France for decades and police are seeking a further three who were convicted on terrorism charges linked to bombings and assassinations in Italy in the late 1960s and early 1980s. The Italian government has been asking France for many years to arrest and extradite the fugitives who have all been named in Italian and French newspapers. Five of those arrested belonged to the far left Red Brigades who fought with right wing militants in Italy during the period known as “The Years of Lead”. Under the Mitterrand Doctrine policy in force at the time, France allowed the terrorists to remain in the country and avoid extradition to Italy as long as they promised to renounce violence. The arrests have come following a meeting earlier this month between the French and Italian justice ministers and a telephone conversation between the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Macron.
EU – The European Parliament has given its overwhelming backing to the Brexit trade and security deal with senior figures on both sides saying they hope it will lead to a new chapter of friendly relations. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has welcomed the news as has the President of the European Council Charles Michel. However, MEPs have warned that ratification of the agreement is not a vote of blind confidence in the UK government’s intention to implement agreements in good faith. They warn that it is an insurance policy against further unilateral deviations from what was jointly agreed. France has already warned that it might take reprisals against the UK if it doesn’t honour the parts of the agreement dealing with fisheries. The trade and security agreement will only be formally ratified following adoption by the EU Council of ministers which is set to take place before Friday.
Policeman injured – A police officer has been injured after being struck by a stone while carrying out an identity check in the Liserons area of Nice. Authorities say that the officer suffered a cut head after being hit by the missile while he was checking ID. A 23-year-old man who was heard shouting in a loud voice to alert the neighbourhood to the presence of police has been arrested in connection with the incident.
Hotels – Several large luxury hotels on the Riviera are getting ready to open their doors again following six-month closures because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Negresco in Nice will open again on the 6th May with all 102 rooms and 26 suites ready to be occupied. In Cannes, the famous Martinez and Majestic hotels are also getting ready for business. Strict coronavirus protocols will be in force for guests. Meanwhile, the Carlton hotel in Cannes is not now expected to open again until 2023 owing to extensive refurbishment which has overrun because of the pandemic. Some items of furniture including arm chairs and beds along with artwork is due to go up for auction between the 10th and 26th May.
Crackdown - France has announced a crackdown on people using fake medical certificates to access gyms and swimming pools. Fitness centres and pools have been closed since October owing to the pandemic. However, exemptions have been granted to those with a medical certificate for sporting activity. Reports say that some people have been asking their doctor to provide them with the certificate even when it’s not necessary. The French doctors union has conceded that the system is open to abuse and has blamed non-regulated virtual consultations. Regular police patrols are now being carried out across the country to make sure the owners of fitness centres and the customers are not abusing the system. As yet, there is no word on when fitness centres and gyms will be allowed to open normally again but it’s likely to be some time in June.
The US Federal reserve has said that it is too early to consider rolling back its emergency support for the economy with so many workers still left jobless by the pandemic. The Fed left interest rates and its bond buying program unchanged with chairman Jerome Powell saying that the central bank is still a long way from its goals and that it’s going to take some time. Mr Powell said that although inflation is due to rise, the coming price increases would almost certainly be of a passing nature and not present a persistent problem that would force the Fed to start raising interest rates sooner than expected. The central bank wants to keep monetary policy loose for the foreseeable future even as it sees the economic recovery gathering pace and the risks from the pandemic starting to fall. Markets had largely anticipated the Fedss remarks and investor reaction was muted.
President Biden has taken aim at China in his first speech to Congress, pledging to maintain a strong US military presence in the Indo-Pacific and pledging to boost technological developments and trade. Mr Biden said that China and other countries are “closing in fast” and the United States has to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future. He said there is simply no reason that the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in “Pittsburgh instead of Beijing”. The President has repeatedly identified competition with China as the greatest foreign policy challenge the country faces. He said that America will stand up to unfair trade practices that undercut American workers and American industries. Mr Biden has also pledged a “once in a generation” investment in American families with a $1.8 trillion plan that includes funding for universal preschool, two years of free community college and a national childcare programme. He said that’s America is on the move again and is “turning peril into possibility, crisis into opportunity and setback into strength”.
Apple has announced a doubling of profits since the start of the pandemic. The tech giant posted sales and profits ahead of Wall Street expectations fuelled by 5G iPhone upgrades. However, Apple also warned that’s a global chip shortage could dent iPads and Mac sales by several billion dollars. Apple has seen sales of its phones, apps and other devices rise throughout the pandemic as consumers spend more time working, shopping and seeking entertainment online. Fitness and music apps also saw a lockdown boost. Sales in China nearly doubled leading to overall revenues for the first three months of the year of $89.6 billion, more than 50% up compared to a year earlier. Profit came in at $23.6 billion up from 11.3 billion for the same period last year.
Football – Manchester City hold the advantage after the first leg of their European Champions League semi-final tie against Paris Saint-Germain. City came from behind with two second-half goals to win the match 2-1. The result gives them a clear advantage heading into the second leg next week.
It’s the semi-final first leg ties in the Europa league tonight. Manchester United play Roma and Villareal host Arsenal.
Formula One – Turkey will replace the Canadian Grand Prix this year after the Montréal event had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Turkey’s Istanbul track will now host the event between the 11th and 13th of June. Meanwhile, the contract for a race on Montreal’s Giles Villeneuve circuit has been extended by two years to 2031. Turkey returns for a second successive year as a stand in race because of disruption caused by the pandemic.
Rugby Union – George North is the latest player to be ruled out of the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa through injury. The 29-year-old ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee playing for Ospreys against Cardiff Blues on Saturday. Lions coach Warren Gatland will name his 36 man squad for the tour on the sixth of May.
Tennis – Novak Djokovic has pulled out of next month’s Madrid open. The 33-year-old Serb said he was sorry he would not be able to travel to Madrid for the event which starts on Sunday and comes four weeks ahead of the French Open. Djokovic has been in patchy form recently and lost in the Monte Carlo Masters earlier this month to Dan Evans. He is expected to play in Rome and Belgrade next month as part of his preparations for Roland Garros.
Overcast with rain and light to moderate south easterly winds. Top temperature 17 degrees. Overnight lows of 12-13 degrees with more rain.
Friday and the start of the weekend - Rain tomorrow. Sunshine and showers on Saturday. Highs of 16-18 degrees.