‘Every minute counts’ as France detects variant of COVID-19 first found in England

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MARSEILLE / PARIS (Reuters) – French authorities said on Sunday they were rushing to contain the most infectious variant of COVID-19 first discovered in Britain, which has now been detected in the Mediterranean port of Marseille and in the Alps.

FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks walk near the Vieux-Port (Vieux Port) in Marseille, France, September 17, 2020. REUTERS / Eric Gaillard

Marseille mayor Benoit Payan said seven to eight people had tested positive for the new variant in the city, while tests were underway on 30 other people who may also have been exposed to it.

“Right now every minute counts to prevent the spread of this English variant,” Payan told reporters.

The local health authority for the Hautes-Alpes region, home to many ski resorts that attract British visitors, said the variant was discovered there as well.

France has the seventh highest death toll from COVID-19 in the world. Deaths have increased by 151 in the past 24 hours to a total of 67,750, while the number of new confirmed cases has increased by 15,944 to around 2.78 million.

The variant, first discovered in England late last year, has been accused by the UK government of an increase in the number of cases threatening to invade UK hospitals last month.

In response to the discovery of the variant in Marseille, the imposed city moved the start time of an evening curfew two hours earlier to 6 p.m.

Marseille joined other major cities such as Strasbourg and Dijon by having longer curfew hours. In Paris, the curfew hours from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. remain unchanged for the moment.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron has said it will not rule out stricter measures if the COVID-19 situation worsens in France.

Macron is working to speed up the deployment of vaccines in the country. France had delivered only 7,000 vaccines in more than a week after the launch of its vaccination campaign on December 27. The government has announced that a vaccine manufactured by Moderna will arrive in France this week.

Report by Marc Leras in Marseille and Sudip Kar-Gupta and Matthieu Protard in Paris; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Raissa Kasolowsky and Peter Graff

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