PARIS-Cities, towns and villages across France were practically empty on Saturday as residents stayed home and businesses shut to observe a nationwide curfew intended to help stem the spread of COVID-19, especially a more infectious variant.

The virus has killed 70,000 people in France, the seventh-highest toll in the world, and the government is particularly worried by the more transmissible variant, which now accounts for about 1 percent of new cases.

The curfew was brought forward two hours to 6 pm and will run until 6 am. In addition, from Monday anyone traveling to France from outside the European Union was expected to have to show a negative test result and self-isolate for a week upon arrival.

“These measures were necessary given the situation,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said. “While worsening, it remains relatively better than many countries around us, but I took them because the context, notably with the evolution of the virus, means we have to have utmost vigilance.”

Shops and businesses sought to mitigate the potential losses of the curfew by opening as early as 7:30 am on Saturday.

While snow showers hit large parts of the country, people adjusted to the new hours to make sure streets were empty by early evening.

“The weekend is less problematic, but during the week people leave the office around 6 pm and it’s a popular time to get optical wear,” Mickael Levy, 45, founder of Win Optic, told Reuters TV. “It’s another restriction, so let’s hope it does something because once again it’s more economic loss for us.”

New daily infections have leveled off at about 20,000, but the number of people being admitted to hospital and requiring intensive care treatment is still rising. The government has also been criticized for the slow pace of France’s vaccination program.

Germany has carried out more than a million vaccinations as new infections and deaths remain high and officials mull whether to increase lockdown measures.

The national disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said on Saturday that nearly 1.05 million vaccinations had been administered, 79,759 more than a day earlier, in the country of 83 million people.

As the newly detected variant poses greater challenges in Europe, strict measures have created deep resentment among people in some countries.

Resentment raised

In Austria, thousands of people marched through Vienna on Saturday to protest against restrictions on public life, just as Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government held talks about extending the measures.

Chanting demonstrators, many without masks, held signs including “Kurz must go” and “Make influenza great again” during marches through the city center.

Austria, a country of 8.9 million people, is in its third lockdown, with only essential shops open. The country has reported nearly 390,000 coronavirus cases and almost 7,000 COVID-19 linked deaths since the pandemic began last year.

Public health experts said after meeting government officials that infection rates were too high to consider easing restrictions now. The government was due to announce its next steps on Sunday.

In Norway, officials have adjusted their advice on who gets the COVID-19 vaccine in light of a small number of deaths in older people, leaving it up to each doctor to consider who should be vaccinated.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency on Thursday reported a total of 29 people had suffered side effects, 13 of them fatal. All the deaths occurred among patients in nursing homes and all were over the age of 80.

More than 30,000 people have received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine in the country since the end of December, according to official figures.

Agencies via Xinhua

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