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French president Emmanuel Macron has announced a 9pm-6am curfew for Paris and eight other big cities from Saturday in an attempt to curb the rise of coronavirus infections that threaten to overwhelm the country’s hospitals. 

“Our intensive care wards are under unsustainable pressure,” Mr Macron said in an interview with French television stations on Wednesday night. 

The president said the curfew, probably lasting six weeks, would apply to the Ile-de-France region that includes Paris, as well as to Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Aix-Marseille, Montpellier, Rouen, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse. 

France is the latest European country to impose a new round of measures to try to limit a surge of Covid-19 cases. Berlin, for example, last week imposed a curfew forcing bars, cafés and restaurants to close between 11pm and 6am. 

In French cities under curfew, essential workers, including people on night shifts, would be authorised to move around, but those without permission would be subject to fines of €135, rising to €1,500 for repeat offenders. Earlier on Wednesday, the government reimposed a national “state of health emergency” making it easier to enforce restrictive measures. 

Mr Macron denied his government had lost control of the pandemic, but expressed concern that infections were being reported across the country, whereas the first wave that triggered a two-month lockdown from March to May was confined largely to the Paris region and eastern France. 

“We have not lost control,” he said. “We are in a worrying situation that means we must neither panic nor do nothing at all.” The aim was to cut the number of newly reported daily infections from the 20,000 seen now to 3,000-5,000 at the end of the six weeks.

Cases have been rising steadily for weeks, particularly in and around the cities of Paris and Lyon, and doctors and nurses have expressed concern that intensive care units will soon again be overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients. 

Nearly 9,200 coronavirus victims are in hospital in France, 1,673 of them in intensive care. The authorities on Wednesday announced a further 104 hospital deaths over the previous 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to more than 33,000.

Mr Macron has previously said France had to learn to live with the virus and that he wanted to avoid another nationwide lockdown. He reiterated this on Wednesday. “The aim is to continue to have an economic life,” he said. “We will continue to work. The economy needs it . . . and our children need to continue to go to school.” 

Numerous sectors of the economy, particularly travel, tourism and restaurants, have been hit hard by the pandemic, and Mr Macron vowed to extend government financial assistance for businesses affected by the curfew.

This week the organisers cancelled the Salon de l’Agriculture, the big farm fair due to be held in Paris in late February and early March, because of the pandemic. 

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