Local lockdown - The Alpes Maritimes is to enter weekend lockdown for the next two weekends as authorities try to bring down spiraling numbers of coronavirus cases in the department. With hospital occupancy rates near saturation and the new British variant of the disease accounting for 50 percent of all new cases, the prefect of the Alpes Maritimes Bernard Gonzalez said that he had “no choice “ but to act now.
The weekend lockdown will be in force from Friday evening at 6pm until Monday morning at 6am and covers the areas between Menton and Theoule-sur-Mer. Anyone who needs to go shopping, has a medical appointment or is taking part in a permitted sporting activity must carry an exemption form as previously required during previous lockdowns. Exercise will be permitted for one hour daily over weekends and must be taken within 5 kilometers of a person's home address. The walking of domestic pets is also permitted. Mr Gonzalez says that he won’t hesitate to introduce a full lockdown should the new measures not have the desired effects.
Masks - The wearing of face masks is now compulsory in all areas of the Alpes Maritimes. Masks must be worn in all outside areas as well as inside shops. A fine of 135 euros will be imposed on anyone not following the regulation with increased penalties for repeat offenders.
Shops - As part of the new Covid-19 restrictions in the Alpes Maritimes, shops with a surface area of more than 5,000 square meters must close, with the exception of food stores and pharmacies. Affected retail outlets will still be able to operate a click and collect service but must follow strict sanitary protocols. Stores with surface areas of between 400 square meters and 5,000 square meters will be permitted to remain open but must employ someone to ensure that social distancing of 15 square meters is observed between customers. Supermarkets will be allowed to open earlier than normal in order to space numbers of customers throughout the day and numbers of people inside a store will be limited depending on the size of the shop.
Vaccines - The prefect of the Alpes Maritimes has pledged extra doses of vaccines to help tackle the current local crisis. An extra 4,500 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine will be available in the coming days together with “thousands” of extra doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Bernard Gonzalez says that vaccine supplies for the department are now a “national priority” and that the extra AstraZeneca supplies would help to start the process of vaccinating the under 65s.
Travel checks - Extra checks at the Italian border are to be put in place as part of the new Coronavirus restrictions in the Alpes Maritimes. In addition, passengers arriving at Nice Airport will have to present a negative PCR test on flights from international destinations. More police and gendarmes are being drafted in to assist in checks at both the Italian border and at the airport.
Monaco - The Monaco State Minister has written a letter to all employees working in the Principality to warn them of the “serious” current coronavirus outbreak. Pierre Dartout reminds employees that working from home is compulsory unless tasks must be carried out in Monaco and that restrictions will remain in force until “at least” the 19th March. Mr Dartout says that it’s vital that as few people as possible are traveling in and out of Monaco on a daily basis and that the government must tread a careful path between health protection and economic activity. The State Minister also says that research shows that most coronavirus infection is taking place in family settings or in the context of meeting with friends and has urged people to maintain social distancing and take maximum precautions.
In other news today
Customs seizures - French customs say that they seized 5.6 million counterfeit items last year, a vast increase on the previous year. Among items seized were 227,000 substandard surgical face masks and dangerous fake medicines purporting to provide a “miracle cure” for coronavirus. Seizures of counterfeit hairstyling products were also among the most numerous items confiscated as lockdown prompted people to carry out DIY treatments with the closure of hair salons during periods of lockdown. Most of the counterfeit goods were sent via the post from Asian countries. Customs have launched a new programme to clamp down on the import of counterfeit goods.
Increased benefits - 230,000 French households on the most modest incomes are to receive extra state benefits to help them through the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the extra funds will be paid to single parents who may be in dispute with a former partner over maintenance for children. The family benefits payment body CAF is to take on an extra 450 staff to help deal with the changes and increase in claims. The CAF will take on the role of intermediary in financial disputes between separated couples and will chase up individuals who are behind on court payments while at the same time granting emergency funds to mostly single mothers. Latest statistics show that there are 250,000 single parents, mostly women who are owed maintenance money by a former partner.
Farmers protest - French farmers have staged protests over the decision by the Mayor of Lyon to put a vegetarian menu on school canteen menus in the city. The measure had been intended to serve students more quickly and improve speed at mealtimes because of the pandemic but it appears to have backfired with farming unions stating that they would not let “just anything go” because of the health crisis. Some 30 tractors and 100 demonstrators took part in the protest on Monday. The vegetarian menus have also been criticized by French government ministers who’ve accused Lyon authorities of “harming children’s health”. The Mayor, a Green Party member has defended the plan and says it does not represent a “forced shift” towards vegetarian meals in schools. The changes will only be in place until the Easter holidays.
Global stock markets have had a negative start to the week as signs of a heating up of economies fanned fears of inflationary pressure. While some might welcome a short burst of inflation that could kickstart some struggling economies, the concerns are that if pressures build too fast and too soon, central banks could be tempted to remove some stimulus. Rising treasury yields are also giving investors pause for thought, dampening sentiment for riskier assets such as equities. Some analysts believe that sky-high stock valuations are well due for a correction and the combination of better treasury yields and higher inflation may be enough to see a decline in risk appetite. Shares in tech giants including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Alphabet all fell back on Monday on the prospect of increased regulation from governments around the world.
US air safety regulators have started an investigation into the engine failure of a United Airlines Boeing 777 jet last weekend which resulted in debris being shed over the city of Denver. Boeing has urged airlines around the world to suspend the use of 777 jets fitted with Pratt and Whitney PW 4000 engines while the investigation is carried out. United has voluntarily removed 24 planes from service while there’s been a similar move by Japan Airlines. The 777 200 and 300 planes affected are older, less fuel efficient models and are currently being used by only 5 airlines globally. The US National Transportation Safety Board says that an initial examination of the 26-year-old plane indicated that most of the damage was confined to the right engine with only minor damage to the aircraft itself. The inlet and casing is reported to have separated from the engine and two fan blades were fractured while other blades showed some damage. Metal fatigue is being cited as a possible cause but is not yet conclusive.
The UK department store chain John Lewis has said that it’s considering the closure of more outlets as it tries to cut costs and adapt to the boom in online shopping. Reports say that the firm is planning to close a further 8 stores permanently in addition to the 8 that were closed last year. That could leave John Lewis with just 34 stores across the UK although the firm has declined to comment. The UK high street is already reeling following the recent demise of Debenhams and the Arcadia empire of Sir Philip Green. The rise in online shopping which has been driven by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns is forcing retailers to rethink how many physical stores they need. John Lewis says that it expects 75 percent of its sales to be online by 2025. The last set of results showed that the firm had made a half-year loss of 635 million pounds forcing it to cancel its annual staff bonus for the first time since 1953.
Football - There was one game in the English Premier League last night. Brighton lost 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace. There’s one game tonight. Leeds play Southampton.
There are two rounds of 16 Champions League first leg ties tonight. Athletico Madrid play Chelsea and Lazio play Bayern Munich.
Rugby Union - The 6 Nations game between France and Scotland this weekend is in doubt after 5 more French players tested positive for coronavirus. The captain Charles Ollivon is one of the players who will definitely miss the game after coming down with the virus and another 9 squad members are highly unlikely to be passed to play. France top the 6 Nations table after two rounds of games in this year’s championship. 6 Nations organisers will make a decision on whether the game can go ahead tomorrow.
Formula 1 - Alex Albon says that he’s determined to return to the sport in 2022 after being demoted to Red Bull’s reserve driver position for the new season. Albon has been replaced by Sergio Perez but says that he’s confident in himself and knows that he can bounce back. Perez will partner Max Verstappen at Red Bull this season after losing his drive at Racing Point, now Aston Martin to Sebastian Vettel.
Cricket - Up to 10,000 fans could be back in English stadia by mid-May as part of the government’s plans to move the country out of lockdown. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a four-part plan to lift the coronavirus lockdown with outdoor sports set to resume from March 29th. Limited numbers of supporters could then be allowed to attend games as long as the lockdown easing criteria has been met.
Mainly fine with light variable winds. Top temperatures 16-18 degrees. Overnight lows of 8-10 degrees with clear skies.
Wednesday and Thursday - Clear skies with highs of 16-19 degrees.