Paris Enters New COVID-19 Lockdown As Europe Resumes Astrazeneca Jabs

Parisians arrive to catch trains leaving from the Gare Montparnasse serving the west and southwest of France, in Paris on March 19, 2021.  Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

A third of France’s population was under a new partial lockdown Saturday to stop the spread of COVID-19, as some European countries resumed AstraZeneca vaccinations following an all-clear from EU regulators and the WHO.

The pandemic is still speeding up worldwide, with the number of new global coronavirus infections rising by 14 per cent over the last week compared to the previous week, according to AFP data.

Fighting to prevent yet another wave of the virus, several countries in Europe went back into partial lockdown on Saturday — with Poland, parts of Ukraine and some French regions all waking up too tight new restrictions.

Parisians packed trains leaving the capital and crammed into shops ahead of the new restrictions coming into force, which will apply to Paris and several other regions for a month.

The mayor of Yerres, just outside Paris, told AFP he had told businesses there to remain open, defying the “totally incomprehensible” restrictions.

“Why would we catch Covid more in a shoe store than a bookshop?” he asked.

READ ALSO: Paris Residents Flee As New COVID-19 Lockdown Looms

Bookshops are considered essential under the new measures, and later Friday the government added florists, chocolate shops and cobblers to the list.

Signs of lockdown weariness abounded in cities across the world, with protests against restrictions popping up in Vienna, Sofia and Montreal.

Some 20,000 people were expected at a demonstration in the German city of Kassel on Saturday, raising fears it would turn into a superspreader event.

Infection rates are once again rising exponentially in Germany, with the vice president of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases warning of signs of a return to “many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed”.

Belgium and Switzerland, where cases are also soaring, put off lifting restrictions on Friday too.

 AstraZeneca jabs resume

Worries that AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine may cause blood clots had seen countries pause its use recently.

But after the European Medicines Agency said it was “safe and effective”, Germany and Italy announced they were using the jab again as of Friday.

France also brought it back into use — but just hours later, the national health regulator recommended its use only for over-55s, given the reported blood clots were only seen in younger people.

World Health Organization vaccine safety experts said “available data do not suggest an overall increase in clotting conditions” among vaccinated people.

The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Indonesia are also ending their suspensions, while Ireland’s advisory committee is recommending the following suit.

Seeking to reassure their populations, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his French counterpart Jean Castex received their first AstraZeneca dose on Friday.

“I literally did not feel a thing. It was very good, very quick,” Johnson said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also committed to getting the AstraZeneca vaccine soon.

‘We’re not scared’

 

While political leaders were enthusiastic, some members of the public remain reluctant.

“I’m a bit anxious of course, but what can you do? We have to do this,” said 42-year-old teacher Valentina at a vaccine centre at Rome’s Termini station.

In Spain, 22-year-old medical student Florentino Quinteiro said he wasn’t worried after receiving an AstraZeneca dose last month.

“The population isn’t always familiar with the situation, but we’re not scared,” he said of his colleagues.

“In pharmacology, there’s always a trade-off between benefit and risk,” he added.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden are yet to bring the jab back into use, pending further review, while Finland said Friday it would pause for at least a week “until there is more information”.

However, the use and production of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine have been ramping up, with the Philippines becoming the latest country to give it the green light Friday, and Indian drugmaker Stelis Biopharma signing on to produce 200 million doses.

Germany said it would order the Sputnik vaccine if the EU authorises its use.

‘Not stopping now’

The United States marked a major milestone in its inoculation drive on Friday, administering its 100 millionth vaccine dose to meet President Joe Biden’s goal weeks ahead of schedule.

“We did it in about 60 days,” he said. “We’re not stopping now.”

With infection rates falling, there are hopes that the world’s worst-hit country, which has seen more than 540,000 deaths, is headed for a powerful rebound.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where the former president has been living since leaving the White House, was partially closed after some staff members tested positive for Covid.

In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s famed beaches will be closed as the city’s mayor said the situation was “very critical,” with a 95-per cent occupancy rate in intensive care units at public hospitals.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has railed against stay-at-home measures and face masks, criticised the measure.

“Vitamin D is a way to prevent the virus from seriously affecting you. And where do you get vitamin D? From the sun. Such hypocrisy,” said the far-right leader.

AFP

France To Evacuate Around 100 COVID-19 Patients From Paris

Health workers take nasal swabs from people for both Covid-19 antigen and RT-PCR tests at a drive-through testing site in Marseille on December 21, 2020. (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

France’s government said Sunday it plans to evacuate around 100 Covid-19 patients from intensive care units in the Paris region this week as hospitals struggle to keep up with a surge in cases.

With the transfers, officials hope to avoid a new lockdown for the roughly 12 million people in and around the capital as they race to step up a vaccination drive that got off to a slow start.

“By the end of this week, probably around 100 patients will have been evacuated from the Ile-de-France region” encompassing Paris, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said at Orly airport, where two patients — aged 33 and 70 — were airlifted to the southwestern city of Bordeaux.

Later this week, two specially equipped trains will transfer “several dozens of patients to regions that today are under less strain” from the pandemic, Attal added.

Asked if Paris would avoid a new lockdown, Attal said “we are doing everything we can to not have to take more difficult, more restrictive measures.”

However, “we will always take whatever decisions are necessary.”

The government has already ordered weekend shutdowns for the northern Pas-de-Calais region — where transfers of Covid patients to less crowded hospitals began earlier this month — and in the Mediterranean region surrounding Nice.

Of the nearly 4,100 Covid patients currently in intensive care nationwide, around 1,100 are in Paris-area hospitals.

A 6 pm curfew remains in place across France and restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres and large shopping centres have been shut, but the average daily number of new Covid cases has continued to climb steadily in recent weeks.

On Saturday, France’s public health agency reported nearly 30,000 new cases over the previous 24 hours and 174 fatalities, bringing France’s total death toll to 90,315.

AFP

50 Journalists Killed In 2020 – Watchdog

 

Fifty journalists and media workers were killed in connection with their work in 2020, the majority in countries that are not at war, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Tuesday.

The figure shows an increase in the targeting of reporters investigating organised crime, corruption or environmental issues, the watchdog said.

It highlighted murders in Mexico, India, and Pakistan.

Eighty-four percent of those killed this year were “deliberately targeted” for their work, RSF said in its annual report, compared to 63 percent in 2019.

“For several years now, Reporters Without Borders has noted that investigative journalists are really in the crosshairs of states, or cartels,” said Pauline Ades-Mevel, RSF editor-in-chief.

Mexico was the deadliest country, with eight killed. “Links between drug traffickers and politicians remain, and journalists who dare to cover these or related issues continue to be the targets of barbaric murders,” said the report.

None of the Mexico killings had yet been punished, added RSF, which has compiled annual data on violence against journalists around the globe since 1995.

Five journalists were killed in war-torn Afghanistan, it said, noting an increase in targeted attacks on media workers in recent months even as peace talks between the government and Taliban are ongoing.

RSF also highlighted the case of Iranian opposition figure Ruhollah Zam, who ran a popular social media channel that rallied regime opponents, and who was executed in December.

His execution “confirms Iran’s record as a country that has officially put the most journalists to death in the past half-century,” it said.

Covid whistleblowers

Ades-Mevel said RSF had also noted the “developing” trend of violence against media workers covering protests, notably in the United States following the killing of George Floyd, and in France against a controversial new security law.

The total number of journalists killed in 2020 was lower than the 53 reported in 2019, although RSF said fewer journalists worked in the field this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first part of the report, published this month, RSF said it was concerned that measures imposed by governments to fight the pandemic had contributed to a “significant peak in violations of press freedom”.

It listed 387 jailed journalists, which it called “a historically high number”.

Fourteen of those had been arrested in connection with their coverage of the coronavirus crisis, it said.

On Monday Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who sent dispatches from Wuhan during the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak, was jailed for four years for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Chinese authorities have punished eight virus whistleblowers so far as they curb criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.

AFP

Violence Breaks Out In Paris As Protest Against New Security Law Continues

A "Yellow Vest" (Gilet Jaune) anti-government protestor kneels raising his fist as he poses with a sign reading 'Living, Yes! Surviving, No!' near burning cars during a demonstration for 'social rights' and against the 'global security' draft law, which Article 24 would criminalise the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their 'physical or psychological integrity', in Paris, on December 5, 2020. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP
A “Yellow Vest” (Gilet Jaune) anti-government protestor kneels raising his fist as he poses with a sign reading ‘Living, Yes! Surviving, No!’ near burning cars during a demonstration for ‘social rights’ and against the ‘global security’ draft law in Paris, on December 5, 2020. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

 

Violence erupted in Paris on Saturday for the second consecutive weekend at a mass protest against a new security law, with demonstrators clashing with police, vehicles set alight and shop windows smashed.

The weekly nationwide protests are becoming a major headache for President Emmanuel Macron’s government, with tensions intensified by the beating of a black music producer by police last month.

Members of the so-called yellow vests movement, which shook Macron with protests against a lack of equality in France over the winter of 2018-2019, were also prominent in the rally.

Windows of a supermarket, property agency and bank were broken while several cars burst into flames along Avenue Gambetta as demonstrators marched towards the central Place de la Republique, AFP reporters said.

READ ALSO: Trump Orders US Troops Removal From Somalia

Objects were also thrown at police who responded by using tear gas, in a repeat of the violent scenes from the protests last weekend against the security law that would restrict publishing pictures of the faces of police.

Some demonstrators used objects left into the streets to create impromptu barricades that they then set on fire.

Protesters, some letting off smoke bombs and firecrackers, shouted slogans like “Everyone hates the police.”

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter that 22 people had been detained in Paris so far by police, who he said were facing “very violent individuals”.

‘No contradiction’

It was one of around 100 protests planned throughout France on Saturday against the new security law.

Police had deployed in force to avert trouble after the violent clashes erupted during the demonstration in Paris a week ago that saw dozens wounded.

A protester throw a stone near a burning barricade during a demonstration for 'social rights' and against the 'global security' draft law, which Article 24 would criminalise the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their 'physical or psychological integrity', in Paris, on December 5, 2020. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP
A protester throw a stone near a burning barricade during a demonstration for ‘social rights’ and against the ‘global security’ draft law, which Article 24 would criminalise the publication of images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their ‘physical or psychological integrity’, in Paris, on December 5, 2020. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

 

Media freedom and human rights groups have led protests for weeks to have the government scrap or revise a bill that would restrict the filming of police, saying it would make it harder to prosecute cases of abuse.

After four French police officers were charged November 30 over the beating and racial abuse of black music producer Michel Zecler, lawmakers from Macron’s party pledged a “complete rewrite” of part of the draft law.

Under a sign demanding the withdrawal of the security law, CGT union leader Philippe Martinez said several causes were coming together.

“There is no contradiction between public and individual freedoms and the need to fight job insecurity and unemployment,” Martinez told AFP.

He referred to the “abuse of employers” and the loss of worker protections.

Not ‘reducing freedoms’

The new clashes came after Macron gave hugely-anticipated interview on Friday to Brut, a video-based news portal aimed at young people, which was seen as an attempt by the president to win credibility with youth particularly concerned by the actions of French police.

Macron acknowledged “there are police who are violent” and insisted that “they need to be punished”.

He acknowledged that “when you have a skin colour that is not white, you are controlled much more (by police). You are identified as a problem factor. And that cannot be justified.”

But he also lashed out at the violence against police at last weekend’s rally in Paris, which he blamed on “crazy people”.

“I cannot let it be said that we are reducing freedoms in France,” he said.

 

AFP

Four French Police Officers Charged Over Beating, Racial Abuse Of Black Man

French anti-riot police officers patrol during a protest against the “global security” draft law in Lyon, on November 28, 2020. PHOTO: OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

 

Four French police officers were charged Monday over the beating and racial abuse of a black music producer, a case that has outraged France and ramped up pressure on the government to give ground on a controversial security bill.

The assault of Michel Zecler — exposed in video footage published last week — has become a new rallying cause for critics who accuse the police of institutionalised racism and brutality.

President Emmanuel Macron summoned cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders to a crisis meeting Monday to rapidly produce “suggestions to re-establish confidence” between the police and the population, government sources said.

Later Monday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is to face questions from a parliamentary commission over the new security law, which would restrict the right of the press — and of social media users — to publish images of on-duty police.

READ ALSO: Thousands Protest As France Reckons With Police Violence

Rallies against the law mobilised tens of thousands at the weekend, with dozens wounded during clashes with police in Paris, including a Syrian photographer who has worked for AFP.

 

 Policemen behind bars

A Paris investigating magistrate early Monday charged all four officers with assault by a person holding public authority. Three were also charged with fabricating their statement on the incident.

Two of the accused — including the most senior officer, a police brigadier aged 44 — will remain behind bars but the other two were freed on conditional release, a judicial source told AFP.

On Sunday, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz called for three of the officers to be also charged with racial abuse.

He said that the officers had acknowledged that their use of force was unjustified, but that they claimed they had acted in “fear” and “panic,” and denied any racist abuse.

The four officers had good prior service records, Heitz added.

Zecler had been stopped for not wearing a mask and because of a strong smell of cannabis. A tiny quantity of the substance was found, he said.

 

Macron ‘in a trap’

Commentators said the images of the beating — first published by the Loopsider news site — might never have been made public if the contentious Article 24 of the security legislation had been in force.

The bill would criminalise publishing images of on-duty police with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity.” It was passed by the National Assembly this month, though it still requires approval from the Senate.

Critics says the legislation is further evidence of a slide to the right by Macron, who came to power in 2017 as a centrist promising a liberal overhaul of France.

Macron said Friday that the images of Zecler’s beating “shame us.”

The president “is caught in a trap,” said the headline in the left-leaning Liberation daily. “The government prefers to let the situation decay rather than withdraw Article 24.”

 

‘Aleppo came back to me’

The protests in Paris saw a brasserie set alight, cars torched and stones thrown at security forces, who responded with tear gas and anti-riot tactics.

Among those hurt was an award-winning Syrian photojournalist, Ameer al-Halbi, 24, seen with a bruised face and much of his head covered in bandages in AFP photos.

Al-Halbi is a freelance photographer who has worked for Polka Magazine and AFP.

“We are shocked by the injuries suffered by our colleague Ameer al-Halbi and condemn the unprovoked violence,” said Phil Chetwynd, AFP’s global news director.

Police have opened an internal investigation into the incident.

Al-Halbi, who was unable to get to the hospital for several hours, said the events felt like a throwback to the Syrian civil war.

“I didn’t think this kind of thing could happen in Paris, it was a shock,” he told AFP in an interview. “I never expected Paris to be a place where I would see blood all over the streets.”

In a tweet, Darmanin said 98 police officers had been hurt during the protests, but it was unclear how many protesters were injured.

AFP

Paris Cafes To Shut As Europe Confronts Second COVID-19 Wave

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 28, 2020 A restaurant employee removes tables on a terrace in Paris, on September 28, 2020, as the city is again being forced to close bars and restaurants earlier due to the health situation caused by the spread of the Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

 

Paris bars and cafes will shut for two weeks as the city and its region were placed on maximum alert Monday, with Europe facing a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the hospitalisation of President Donald Trump throwing the US election campaign into a tailspin.

France reported nearly 17,000 new coronavirus cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since the country began widespread testing.

The shuttering of bars and cafes — seen by many as the essence of Parisian life — were “braking measures because the epidemic is moving too fast,” Paris police chief Didier Lallemant told journalists, adding that restaurants will remain open provided they respect new safety measures.

These will include making sanitising hand gel available at all dining tables, limiting patrons to six a table with at least a metre (3.3 feet) between seats, and allowing patrons to remove their masks only for eating.

Also on Monday, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said she would self-isolate for a day after learning she had met someone infected with Covid-19 last week.

Von der Leyen, who turns 62 this week, is not the first senior EU official to be quarantined in recent weeks. Last month the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, was forced to postpone a European leaders’ summit for a week after a security guard in his team tested positive.

Europe, which has recorded 235,553 deaths, is approaching a caseload of six million out of the more than 35.2 million cases officially diagnosed across the world.

The virus has killed at least 1,037,971 people worldwide according to the latest AFP tally based on official sources.

Britain remains the worst-hit European country, passing its latest milestone of 500,000 confirmed coronavirus infections on Sunday.

– Ireland, Russia hesitate –

Neighbouring Ireland for its part is mulling a nationwide lockdown after a surge of new cases.

The National Public Health Emergency Team recommended that the entire country reprise the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions imposed during the original lockdown in March.

Russia recorded 10,888 new cases on Sunday — close to a peak reached in May — but stopped short of reimposing a new lockdown.

Spain has decided partial lockdowns for two more cities, Leon and Palencia, after residents of Madrid and nine nearby towns were barred from leaving city limits for any reason other than work, school or medical and legal appointments.

While Madrid’s regional authorities have criticised the two weeks of restrictions as too stringent, healthcare experts have said they do not go far enough.

Europeans despondent over returning to restrictions they had thought were behind them can look to New Zealand’s triumph over a second wave in the Pacific island nation.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that her country had “beat the virus again” and announced that restrictions in the largest city Auckland would be eased after a second Covid-19 wave was contained.

“Aucklanders and New Zealanders stuck to the plan that has worked twice now, and beat the virus again,” Ardern said.

– Mental health ‘forgotten’ –

While the ravages of Covid-19 on the physical and economic life of the planet are clear, the pandemic’s devastating effects on mental health have been widely overlooked, the World Health Organization said Monday.

A survey conducted between June and August revealed severe disruptions to mental health services in 93 countries, the WHO said ahead of a large fundraising push.

“This is a forgotten aspect of Covid-19,” WHO mental health director Devora Kestel told a virtual media briefing.

Meanwhile, as Trump began his fourth day in hospital on Monday, doctors said they would decide later in the day whether he could be discharged.

With a tough election campaign against Democratic rival Joe Biden in its final month, Trump and his advisors have sought to project a sense of continuity.

The US president, who was flown Friday to Walter Reed hospital outside Washington, released videos and photos of himself and made a drive-by appearance to supporters gathered outside the facility.

He said he had “learned a lot about Covid” by “really going to school” as he has battled the virus.

AFP

Paris Closes Bars To Curb COVID-19 Spread

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 28, 2020 A restaurant employee removes tables on a terrace in Paris, on September 28, 2020, as the city is again being forced to close bars and restaurants earlier due to the health situation caused by the spread of the Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus.  (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

 

Bars and cafes in Paris, placed on maximum coronavirus alert Monday, will be shuttered for two weeks under new measures to fight the rapid spread of the epidemic, but restaurants will remain open, officials said.

With the rate of new infections, hospitalisations and deaths accelerating months after the lifting of a nationwide lockdown, new rules on social distancing will enter into force starting Tuesday.

“These are braking measures because the epidemic is moving too fast,” Paris police chief Didier Lallement told journalists.

Bars and cafes have continued to draw large crowds often flouting physical distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

But restaurants, described as establishments with the main business of serving food, can continue to operate provided they meet stricter new conditions, which will be announced later Monday.

Aurelien Rousseau, director of the ARS regional health agency, said Paris has crossed three thresholds that require its reclassification as a region on maximum alert: the general rate of virus prevalence, its spread among older people at higher risk of serious illness and the number of intensive care hospital beds taken up by coronavirus patients — now at 36 percent.

He said there were 203 active coronavirus “clusters” in the Paris Ile-de-France region.

Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne in a tweet urged employers and workers in Paris and other zones on maximum alert “to work from home as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus”.

-AFP

Paris Braces For Maximum COVID-19 Alert Level

People wearing face masks walk past a sign displaying sanitary rules on a market in Paris, on August 27, 2020, as face masks will become mandatory in the city. Ludovic MARIN / AFP
People wearing face masks walk past a sign displaying sanitary rules on a market in Paris, on August 27, 2020, as face masks will become mandatory in the city. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

Paris was preparing on Sunday to be placed under maximum coronavirus alert as alarming Covid-19 infection numbers appeared to leave the French government little choice but to tighten restrictions in and around the capital.

Paris’s trademark bars and cafes are threatened with complete closure as early as Monday after Health Minister Olivier Veran announced that only improved Covid-19 infection rates could prevent such a step.

If recent trends were confirmed “we’ll have no choice”, he warned on Thursday, saying new restrictions would mean “no more family gatherings, no more evenings out, and a total closure of bars”.

But a reprieve looks unlikely after France reported a 16,972 new coronavirus cases on Saturday alone, the highest daily number since the country began widespread testing.

Figures from the regional health agency ARS show new coronavirus cases remaining above 250 per 100,000 people in Paris, a threshold triggering the maximum alert protocol which has already hit the southern cities Aix-en-Provence and Marseille and their surroundings, as well as the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe.

“There is no justification for denial,” said the ARS director for the Paris region, Aurelien Rousseau, on Sunday. “The numbers are what they are, and they are weighing heavily,” he tweeted.

– ‘We’re French, we love to drink’ –

Interior minister Gerald Darmanin acknowledged that the looming closure of bars and cafes would be “tough” for everyone concerned.

“We are French, we love to drink, to eat, to live, to smile and to kiss each other,” he told broadcasters LCI and Europe 1 on Sunday.

“But we’re also doing this because the people want us to,” he added.

BFM television on Sunday published a poll saying that 61 percent of people living in Paris and its suburbs were in favour of a complete closure of bars, which are currently authorised to remain open until 10 pm.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters on Sunday that “it’s not a done deal, there is still work being done, we’re still talking”. But she also conceded that the health situation was “very serious”.

The government has said it will target primarily establishments that “serve alcoholic drinks without food”.

Restaurant owners are still hoping that they can dodge a similar fate, at least for now.

The health authorities are evaluating a proposal submitted by restaurants for voluntary restrictions — including registering the home addresses of their clients and limiting the number of people at each table — before submitting their recommendations to the government.

Other large French cities including Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Toulouse are also hovering near the maximum alert threshold and similar measures as in the capital could be in store for them, too.

Employer organisation UMIH, which represents cafes, bars, hotels, restaurants, brasseries and discos, has warned that 15 percent of France’s 220,000 establishments in the sector are threatened with bankruptcy because of virus restrictions, with up to 250,000 staff facing unemployment.

The government has said it will take every precaution necessary to avoid a new state of emergency that would require a generalised lockdown like the one imposed at the height of the outbreak, from mid-March to mid-May.

The country’s total death toll from Covid-19 is 32,198 after recording 49 more fatalities on Saturday.

AFP

Paris Knife Attacker Admits Lying About His Age- Prosecutor

Anti-terrorism state prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard wearing a face mask speaks during a press conference on September 29, 2020 after man armed with a knife seriously wounded two people on September 25, 2020, (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

 

A man who injured two people in a meat cleaver attack in Paris last week admitted he lied to police when he said he was 18 and had entered the country as a minor, the lead prosecutor in the case said Tuesday.

The assailant in what the French government has called an act of “Islamist terrorism” had identified himself as Hassan A., an 18-year-old born in the Pakistani town of Mandi Bahauddin.

He entered France in 2018 under the false identity that gave him access to social security aid for minors, national anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard told a news conference.

After Friday’s attack, investigators became suspicious about his claims when they found a photo of an identity document on his phone that appeared to suggest he was actually called Zaheer Hassan Mehmood, aged 25.

“He eventually admitted that this was his true identity and that he was 25 years old,” Ricard said.

It was under that identity that he appeared in a video filmed before the Friday attack, in which he said he was avenging the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed by the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The magazine was the scene of a massacre by Islamist gunmen in January 2015, and the trial of 14 alleged accomplices in that attack is currently underway in Paris.

The attacker seriously injured two employees of a TV production agency, whose offices are on the same block that used to house Charlie Hebdo. They are now in stable condition, officials said.

He told investigators he thought he was targeting employees of Charlie Hebdo, but did not realise they had since moved to a new location that is kept secret because of security risks.

Ricard said the attacker had never attracted the attention of any government intelligence agency before Friday’s assault.

-AFP

Masks Compulsory Across Paris As COVID-19 Cases Mount

French Prime Minister Jean Castex puts his protective face mask on during a press conference on the situation of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in France, at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris on August 27, 2020. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / POOL / AFP
French Prime Minister Jean Castex puts his protective face mask on during a press conference on the situation of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in France, at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris on August 27, 2020. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / POOL / AFP.

 

France’s prime minister announced Thursday that face masks will become compulsory throughout Paris as he urged the public to help halt a trend of mounting coronavirus infections.

Jean Castex said 19 departments have been added to a map with “red” zones of active virus circulation, meaning 21 of mainland France’s 94 departments are now classified as such.

Official figures released Wednesday showed more than 5,400 confirmed new cases in just 24 hours, with admissions to hospital and intensive care units on the rise.

There was an “undeniable resurgence” of the Covid-19 epidemic throughout France, Castex told a press conference, with 39 positive tests per 100,000 population — four times the level of a month ago, and rising in all age groups.

The “positivity rate” — the percentage of tests that come back positive — was up from one percent in May to 3.7 percent today, and the so-called “R” rate of viral transmission is now 1.4 nationwide, meaning 10 infected people are infecting 14 others on average.

More than 800 coronavirus patients are being admitted to hospital on average each week, up from 500 six weeks ago, the prime minister said.

“The epidemic is gaining ground, and now is the time to intervene” to curb exponential infection growth, he said.

– Dash to avoid lockdown –

Castex announced that Paris, one of the 21 zones with active virus circulation, will make face masks compulsory throughout the city.

The city council later said the measure would come into effect at 8:00 am on Friday.

Masks are already obligatory on public transport nationwide and in most enclosed public spaces, including the workplace.

File photo: Homemade protective face masks are prepared by Sarah, a 45-year-old volunteer, who sews face masks to be distributed to people in need, at her home in Vincennes, eastern suburbs of Paris, on May 7, 2020, on the 52nd day of a strict lockdown in France to stop the spread of COVID-19. – GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP.

 

Local authorities in some cities and towns, including Paris, have also used executive powers to make face coverings compulsory in busy outdoor areas.

On Tuesday, the Mediterranean port city of Marseille — also in a red zone — made masks compulsory in public places throughout the city, including outdoors, and announced bars and restaurants would close every day at 11:00 pm.

Castex said the government would do everything in its power to avoid issuing new nationwide stay-at-home orders, but the possibility could not be excluded entirely and localised lockdowns may be on the cards.

– ‘Relaxation’ to blame –

He urged French people to do their part by taking infection-prevention measures such as regular hand-washing and mask wearing, and to practice social distancing.

Some “relaxation” in French society appears to have contributed to the post-lockdown infection rise, he said, with some unwilling to wear masks or follow guidelines to avoid parties or stay away from older people at higher risk.

The rate of infection increase was particularly high among people aged 20 to 30.

Castex said the situation was not yet “serious”, with the virus incidence rate still 20 times lower today than it was at the peak of the epidemic, when there were an estimated 1,000 cases per 100,000 of the population.

But if things do take a turn for the worse, he said hospitals were ready with sufficient beds, masks and equipment.

The outbreak has claimed over 30,500 lives in France.

Masks will become obligatory for all children over 11 when they return to school next week after the summer holidays, including on the playground, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced Thursday.

AFP

Face Masks Now Compulsory In Paris As COVID-19 Cases Rise

People wearing face masks walk past a sign displaying sanitary rules on a market in Paris, on August 27, 2020, as face masks will become mandatory in the city. Ludovic MARIN / AFP
People wearing face masks walk past a sign displaying sanitary rules on a market in Paris, on August 27, 2020, as face masks will become mandatory in the city. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

France’s prime minister on Thursday announced face masks will become compulsory throughout Paris, expressing concern over an “undeniable” trend of expanding coronavirus infection in the country.

Jean Castex said 19 more departments have been added to a map with “red” zones of active virus circulation, meaning 21 of France’s 94 departments are classified as such.

Official figures released Wednesday showed more than 5,400 confirmed new cases in just 24 hours, with admissions to hospital and intensive care units on the rise.

There was an “undeniable resurgence” of the Covid-19 epidemic throughout France, Castex told a press conference, with an incidence rate of 39 positive tests per 100,000 of the population — four times the level of a month ago, and rising among all age groups.

The “positivity rate” — the percentage of tests that come back positive — was up from one percent in May to 3.7 percent today, and the so-called “R” rate of viral transmission has risen to 1.4 nationwide, meaning ten infected people are infecting 14 others on average.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex puts his protective face mask on during a press conference on the situation of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in France, at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris on August 27, 2020. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / POOL / AFP
French Prime Minister Jean Castex puts his protective face mask on during a press conference on the situation of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in France, at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris on August 27, 2020. CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / POOL / AFP

 

More than 800 coronavirus patients are being admitted to hospital every week on average, up from 500 six weeks ago, said the prime minister.

“The epidemic is gaining territory, and now is the time to intervene,” he said, appealing to all French people to take infection-prevention measures such as regular hand-washing and mask wearing, and social distancing.

Castex announced that Paris, one of the 21 zones with active virus circulation, will make face masks compulsory throughout the city. He did not give a date.

The government would do everything in its power to avoid issuing new, nationwide stay-at-home orders, the premier added, but the possibility could not be excluded entirely and localised confinements may be on the cards.

Face Masks Now Compulsory In Paris Tourists Hotspots, Crowded Areas

In this file photo taken on May 11, 2020, a man and a woman wearing face masks walk on Trocadero Plaza as a French national flag flies on the Eiffel Tower in background in Paris on the first day of France's easing of lockdown measures in place for 55 days to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP
In this file photo taken on May 11, 2020, a man and a woman wearing face masks walk on Trocadero Plaza as a French national flag flies on the Eiffel Tower in background in Paris on the first day of France’s easing of lockdown measures in place for 55 days to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP

 

Face masks became compulsory in tourist hotspots in Paris on Monday amid warnings of a resurgence of coronavirus cases, as infections in the world’s worst-hit country the United States topped five million.

The requirement came as France along with much of Western Europe sweltered in a heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 35 degrees Celsius (95 F).

The blistering heat sent crowds flocking to beaches at the weekend despite health warnings about the risk of infection.

In Berlin, thousands of children returned to school on Monday after the summer break, sporting masks which are compulsory in common areas like school courtyards. Schools in some other German regions also reopened, though with differing rules on masks.

“No child forgot their masks this morning, so we see everything is back to normal,” said Domenica Acri, headmistress of the Carl Orff primary school in Berlin.

In Pakistan, all restaurants and parks were allowed to reopen Monday, as well theatres, cinemas and public transport, after the country saw a drop in new cases for several weeks.

‘Anything but second lockdown’

People in Paris aged 11 and over are now required to wear the masks in crowded areas and tourists hotspots.

These include the banks of the Seine River and more than 100 streets in the French capital, including tourist destinations like Montmartre, where the Sacre Coeur basilica is located.

A man wearing a protective mask passes by a scaffolding by Dior on August 7, 2020 in Paris, amid the crisis linked with the covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. ALAIN JOCARD / AF
A man wearing a protective mask passes by a scaffolding by Dior on August 7, 2020 in Paris, amid the crisis linked with the covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
ALAIN JOCARD / AF

 

Several French towns and cities have already introduced similar measures, as well as parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania and Spain.

“All the indicators show that since mid-July the virus is again circulating more actively in the (Paris) region,” said a police statement at the weekend.

Paris residents interviewed by AFP generally supported the decision on masks.

“I think it’s a very good idea, we should maybe have done it sooner,” Bertrand, 28, said in the popular Rue des Martyrs in central Paris.

“Since we don’t understand enough about this illness, the best thing is that we protect ourselves.”

The masks are “restrictive” but necessary “if we want to avoid a second wave in Paris,” said Marion, 24, wearing a bright green mask. “Anything except a second lockdown.”

Globally, nearly 20 million cases have been officially registered.

The death toll is at least 731,500 worldwide since the novel coronavirus emerged in China last December, according to a running tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

The United States is by far the worst-hit country with nearly 163,000 deaths. On Sunday, it reached the extraordinary milestone of five million coronavirus cases, according to according to John Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump’s Democratic opponent in the presidential election, Joe Biden, tweeted that five million coronavirus cases was “a number that boggles the mind and breaks the heart.”

‘Unworkable, weak’ relief

The figures came as Trump was accused of flouting the constitution by unilaterally extending a virus relief package.

The package — announced by Trump on Saturday after talks between Republican and Democrat lawmakers hit a wall — was “absurdly unconstitutional,” senior Democrat Nancy Pelosi told CNN.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event about regulatory reform on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
President Trump has extended a coronavirus relief package.

 

Fellow Democrat and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, appearing on ABC, dismissed Trump’s unilateral measures as “unworkable, weak and far too narrow.”

But with the world’s largest economy still struggling to dig itself out of an enormous hole, Democrats appeared skittish about any legal challenge to a relief package they see as seriously inadequate.

The four executive orders Trump signed Saturday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey will, among other things, defer payroll taxes and provide some temporary unemployment benefits.

The president was seen as keen to show himself taking decisive action ahead of a November 3 election that could see him ousted from office, with polls showing a large majority of voters unhappy with his handling of the crisis.

Grim milestone for Brazil

After the US, Brazil has the most cases, and on Saturday it became the second country to pass 100,000 fatalities.

President Jair Bolsonaro has played down the coronavirus from the beginning, dismissing it as a “little flu,” questioning the lockdowns ordered by some state governors and saying their economic impact could be “more deadly than the virus.”

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 18, 2020 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gestures using a face cover during a press conference regarding the COVID-19, coronavirus pandemic at the Planalto Palace, Brasilia. (Photo by Sergio LIMA / AFP)

 

Following the news of the latest milestone, Brazil’s most widely viewed TV network Globo criticised Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis, asking “Has the president of the republic done his duty?”

In Peru, indigenous people armed with spears and angry over what they consider government neglect of their communities in the pandemic assaulted a settlement for oil workers deep in the Amazon, triggering a clash with police that left three natives dead, the government said Sunday.

In Spain, top-flight football club Atletico Madrid on Sunday reported two positive coronavirus tests, just four days before they face Germany’s Leipzig for a place in the Champions League semi-finals.

It was not revealed whether the two positive cases involved players or backroom staff.

Atletico said UEFA as well as the Spanish and Portuguese football and health authorities have been informed and that a fresh round of tests will be carried out on the squad and support team.

 

AFP