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France: Nice tells tourists to stay away as COVID cases soar

The southern resort city has by far the highest coronavirus infection rate in France, and the mayor is calling for a tougher lockdown.

Health Minister Oliver Veran (right)

French Health Minister Oliver Veran (right) says the government is considering tougher measures

The mayor of Nice urged visitors on Sunday to stay away from the French Riviera tourist hot spot after the southern city saw a spike in coronavirus cases.

Christian Estrosi of the center-right Republicans party said new measures that "go beyond the nationwide 6 p.m. curfew" were needed to "stop the inflow of visitors." 

"The weather is nice, everybody rushes to come here. A weekend lockdown would put a stop to that, without halting economic activity in the city," he told France Info radio.

Nice has the highest COVID-19 infection rate in France, with 740 new cases per week per 100,000 residents, according to Covidtracker.fr, which is triple the national average.

On Saturday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said the government would decide this weekend on tightening virus control measures in the Mediterranean city.

"Consultations will be conducted over the weekend to take additional measures to stem the epidemic, ranging from a reinforced curfew to local lockdown at weekends," Veran said.

Restaurants, bars, cultural events and sports clubs have been shuttered across the country to halt infections.

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Nice blames Christmas visitors

Estrosi, who is close to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said infection rates had leaped because of the massive inflow of tourists over the Christmas holiday.

International flights to the city had jumped from 20 a day before Christmas to 120 over the festive period. 

Le Poppies bistro in Nice

Le Poppies has been closed since October as part of measures to fight the spread

"We will be happy to receive lots of tourists this summer, once we win this battle, but it is better to have a period while we say: 'Do not come here — this is not the moment.' Protecting the people of Nice is my priority," he said.

If agreed, the new restrictions would likely extend over all the southern Alpes-Maritimes administrative region, which includes Nice, but not beyond.

Remi Salomon, the president of the APHP network of hospitals in Paris and its surroundings, described the outbreak as "out of control" in the region on BFMTV and said measures taken in recent weeks had not been sufficient.

Eric Ciotti, a member of the National Assembly for the Republicans who represents a district of Nice, told the Nice Matin newspaper that the decision appeared to have already been made and a weekend lockdown was on the cards.

France holds off on third lockdown

France has so far avoided imposing a third nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of the virus, in contrast with some of its neighbors.

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Currently, mainland France has a nightly curfew beginning at 6 p.m.

The only part of the country with a lockdown in place is the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, an overseas French department, where the measure has been in effect since February 5.

The curfew has been credited with keeping a lid on infection rates but government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on French TV late Saturday the latest trends were "not good."

After a slow start, France's vaccination campaign has gained some momentum with more than 2.5 million people receiving a dose and, of those, over 1.1 million have had both doses.

jf/mm (AFP, Reuters)