Stubbornly high infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 have fuelled fears France may need a third nationwide lockdown

Meanwhile, Britain’s health minister warned that vaccines may be less effective against new variants and Israel included teens in inoculation drive

New border controls went into force in

on Sunday as part of a massive effort to contain the spread of

and avoid another nationwide lockdown.

After a slow start to vaccinations, French health authorities reported that a million people had received coronavirus inoculations by Saturday.

But stubbornly high new rates for infections, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 fuelled fears France may need another full lockdown, which would be the third, inflicting yet more devastation on businesses and daily lives.

Starting on Sunday, arrivals to France from

countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours. The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January.

EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test.

Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and seaports from other EU countries every week, according to Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

The French health agency on Saturday reported 23,924 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, and 321 new coronavirus deaths, taking the French death toll to 72,877.

The total number of hospitalised Covid patients stood at 25,800, of whom nearly 2,900 were in intensive care.

Also by Saturday, one million people in France had received at least one jab, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, four weeks after kicking off the vaccination campaign, focusing first on people over 75 in care homes and health workers over 50.

Britain’s health minister warned that coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease, such as those found in

, and that stricter border controls are therefore justified.

“We don’t know the degree of that,” Matt Hancock said in an interview on British television news channel Sky News on Sunday, commenting on the extent of any potential reduced efficacy of the vaccines. “In the meantime, we’ve got to have a precautionary principle that says let’s not bring these new variants back to the UK”

Hancock’s warning came as Britain reported it had vaccinated more than 5 million people, including three-quarters of those over 80. Hancock said the government is conducting a vaccine trial on the South African variant to study its response to the inoculation, and that he is concerned about new variants developing elsewhere.

“The new variant I really worry about is the one that’s out there but hasn’t been spotted,” he said, adding that Britain is offering its genome-sequencing capability to other countries to help them identify new strains. There are 77 known cases of the South African variant in Britain, and at least 9 cases of the Brazilian variant, Hancock said on the BBC’s

The UK has already banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries, plus all of South America, in a bid to stop the spread of the new variants. Hancock said the government didn’t rule out introducing even stricter international travel measures in the days ahead.

Britain is grappling with the highest death toll in Europe from the disease and battling to recover from its deepest recession in more than 300 years. The government is also on alert over signs that a local variant of the virus, which is as much as 70 per cent more transmissible, may be more deadly than the original strain.

expanded its Covid-19 vaccination drive on Sunday to include 16- to 18-year-olds in what the government described as an effort to enable their attendance at school exams.

Israel, which has the world’s fastest vaccine distribution rate, is hoping to begin reopening its economy next month.

With regular imports of Pfizer Inc. vaccines, Israel has administered at least one dose to more than 25 per cent of its 9 million population since December 19, the Health Ministry says.

The vaccines were initially limited to the elderly and other high-risk categories, but are now available to anyone over 40 or – with parental permission – those between 16 and 18.

The inclusion of late-teens is meant “to enable their return [to school] and the orderly holding of exams,” an Education Ministry spokeswoman said.

Israel awards a matriculation certificate to high school students in grades 10-12 who pass exams, administered by the Education Ministry, that play a major role in acceptance to universities. They can also affect placement in the military, where many Israelis do compulsory service after high school.

The country has been under a third national lockdown since December 27, which it plans to lift at the end of January.

The unrelenting increase in Covid-19 infections in

following the holiday season is again straining hospitals, threatening the mental health of doctors and nurses who have been at the forefront of the pandemic for nearly a year.

In Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar, the critical care capacity has more than doubled and is nearly full, with 80 per cent of ICU beds occupied by coronavirus patients.

A study released this month by the hospital looking at the impact of the spring’s Covid-19 surge on more than 9,000 health workers across Spain found that at least 28 per cent suffered major depression – six times higher than the rate in the general population before the pandemic.

In addition, the study found that nearly half of participants had a high risk of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks or substance- and alcohol-abuse problems.

Spanish health care workers are far from the only ones to have suffered psychologically from the pandemic. In

, a survey released last week by the Royal College of Physicians found that 64 per cent of doctors reported feeling tired or exhausted. One in four sought out mental health support.

“It is pretty awful at the moment in the world of medicine,” Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said in a statement accompanying the study. “Hospital admissions are at the highest-ever level, staff are exhausted, and although there is light at the end of the tunnel, that light seems a long way away.”

The most affected group of health care workers, according to the Spanish study, were nurse’s aides and nurses, who are overwhelmingly women and often immigrants. They spent more time with dying Covid-19 patients, faced poor working conditions and salaries and feared infecting family members.

Unlike in the summer, when the number of cases in Spain fell and health workers were encouraged to take holidays, doctors and nurses have been working incessantly since the autumn, when virus cases picked up again.

The latest resurgence has nearly doubled the number of daily cases seen in November, and Spain now has the third-highest Covid-19 infection rate in Europe and the fourth-highest death toll, with more than 55,400 confirmed fatalities.

But unlike many European countries, including neighbouring Portugal, the Spanish health minister has for now ruled out the possibility of a new lockdown, relying instead on less drastic restrictions that aren’t as damaging to the economy but take longer to decrease the rate of infections.

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