Faced with a resurgence of Covid-19 infections, French authorities pulled out all the stops to ensure that France would step into 2021 in safety. An existing nationwide overnight curfew was enforced on New Years’s Eve by some 130,000 police officers; all public celebrations were banned and the government advised to limit private gatherings to six people.
That did not prevent some 2,500 partygoers from attending an illegal New Year rave near the city of Rennes, in northwestern France.
A statement from local authorities said that many of the revelers were still on the site of the illegal party on Friday morning and that police had failed to stop it. Paramedics were deployed around the site to distribute gel and masks in a bid to limit the risks of coronavirus contaminations and prosecutors announced that they opened an investigation into the illegal organization of the event.
Police officers tried to prevent the rave “but faced fierce hostility from many partygoers,” the statement read, adding that stones and bottles were thrown at them and that a police car was set on fire.
The rave near Rennes, and some other large-scale illegal parties throughout France that were broken up by the police, sparked concern about the spread of the coronavirus, as the country still suffers from the second wave of the pandemic.
With more than 2.6 million confirmed cases of coronavirus — the highest number of cases in Europe — and some 65,000 deaths, France has paid a heavy toll to the pandemic.
On Thursday, health authorities announced that a first case of a new coronavirus variant linked to South Africa had been reported in France, while the seven-day average of new daily infections cases has surpassed 13,000 — more than double the government’s daily target of 5,000 new infections to ease restrictions.
To fight back a rise in infections in parts of the country, French authorities on Friday announced that it would bring forward by two hours the nighttime curfew in 15 of France’s 101 departments, or administrative divisions. The curfew will be at 6 p.m. rather than 8 p.m., starting on Saturday.
With hospitals still struggling to cope with the second wave of the pandemic and while authorities fear that end-of-year holiday gatherings will result in a rebound of Covid-19 infections, the French government is under pressure to act.
In a note submitted to the government on Dec. 23 and made public on Tuesday, France’s scientific council — a government advisory body for the Covid-19 crisis — recommended to act swiftly in the face of a “possible” resumption of the pandemic that could soon be “out of control.”
The French government has for the moment ruled out a return to a full lockdown, despite pressure from some local authorities, but Olivier Véran, France’s health minister, warned that a relaxation of the restrictions that have forced bars, restaurants, museums and theaters to close is likely to be delayed.
“At this stage, and depending on the evolution in the coming days, it seems hardly conceivable to lift all the restrictions,” Mr. Véran said.
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