Paris, Jan 6 (IANS) The number of new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in France spiked by 20,489 in a 24-hour span, and 867 patients succumbed to the disease, 522 of them in retirement homes, according to official data.
The cumulative number of people who have caught the virus in France rose to 26,80,239. The number of coronavirus-linked fatalities stood at 66,282, the Xinhua news agency reported.
On Tuesday, 24,904 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, including 2,625 serious cases in resuscitation units. On Monday, the respective figures were 91 and 41 higher.
France is still far from reducing the number of new Covid-19 infections to 5,000 per day, a target it has set to return gradually to normalcy. Furthermore, the risk of a strong resurgence of the pandemic remains high after the year-end holidays and amid the spread of the more contagious virus strain that forced Britain to impose a third lockdown and many other European countries to toughen rules.
About ten suspected or proven cases of the coronavirus strain, discovered recently in Britain, have so far been detected in France, said French Minister of Health Olivier Veran. "It is a variant that worries us and for which we are deploying very important logistical and diagnostic resources."
"Since early December, we have been on a plateau, which is high. That means we cannot relax the restrictions," he said.
On November 28, 2020, the French government relaxed the restrictions it had introduced a month earlier. It allowed non-essential shops to reopen and people to move freely and travel without a specific certificate.
Cultural venues and catering businesses are scheduled to reopen later this month. But the downward trend in new infections has flattened out, which means that cinemas, theaters, museums, restaurants and bars may have to remain closed.
According to Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist and government adviser, the circulation of the virus is too intense to allow the further relaxation of coronavirus restrictions.
"This question will only be answered when the virus circulation will really go down a notch because we cannot take risks," he told state-run France Info radio.
Under fire over the slow pace of its vaccination campaign compared to its European neighbours, the French government is going "to amplify, accelerate and simplify (its) vaccination strategy," said Veran.
As part of a coordinated European plan, France launched its vaccination campaign on December 27 targeting the most vulnerable people in nursing homes during the first phase of the rollout. By January 1, only 516 people have been vaccinated in the country, according to official figures.
"The cruising speed of vaccinations will catch up with our neighbours in the coming days," Veran told RTL radio.
As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in France and some other countries with the already-authorised coronavirus vaccines.
Meanwhile, 232 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 60 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on December 29.