UPDATED Thursday, March 18 22:53: The neighbouring Alpes-Maritimes will go into lockdown from midnight on Friday, March 19, for a period of four weeks, along with 15 other French Departments.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the new restrictions during a press conference in Paris on Thursday evening. The Paris region is included in the new measures. The nightly curfew will start from 19:00 each day, from Saturday, rather than at 18:00. Schools will remain open but travel will be limited to a 10-kilometre radius.

He tried to be as upbeat as possible in the circumstances, saying that the next four weeks are crucially important.

“We have fought the pandemic with restrictions, now we must move to fighting the virus with vaccination,” he said, while adding that the so-called British variant is now responsible for three-quarters of new cases and is more transmissible and more dangerous.

He noted the verdict of the European Medicines Agency given earlier in the day that AstraZeneca is a safe vaccine with only very rare serious side-effects.

In an attempt to boost confidence, he said: “We will restart vaccinations immediately, from tomorrow afternoon, and I will myself be vaccinated with AstraZeneca.”

Mixed reaction on the Riviera

Local reaction to the new lockdown was mixed. Mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi was broadly supportive, but the mayor of Grasse, Jérôme Viaud, labelled the move “lamentable.”

He pointed to a severe shortage of vaccine doses. Over the last two weekends Grasse had only 644 doses to offer in a town of 51,000 people.

The decision to lockdown the Alpes-Maritimes reflects “the incompetence and the absence of an effective health strategy of the government. Once again, our Department is paying a high price for this lack of preparation and this lack of anticipation by the health authorities.”

FILE PHOTO: PM Jean Castex Reuters