France confirms 18,436 new COVID-19 cases

PARIS, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- France on Sunday registered 18,436 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, pushing the total count to 3,053,617, while prospect rises for a third nationwide confinement to curb the spread of more infectious new variants.

Since France reported its first COVID-19 cases in late January 2020, a total of 73,049 people have died from the disease, figures released by health authorities showed.

Hospital admissions increased by 493 to 26,393, while the number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) was up by 69 to 2,965.

A curfew starting at 6 p.m. has been in force since Jan. 16, forcing shops to close two hours earlier and citizens to stay at home until 6 a.m. in a move to contain the viral circulation amid the emergence of highly infectious virus variants.

If the nightly ban on people's movement falls short to limit the virus spread, a new lockdown would be ordered, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

"We need the curfew to show results," he told Le Parisian newspaper on Sunday. "In a best-case scenario, we will manage to reduce the epidemic pressure. If not, we will not wait for the month of March before acting."

"We are monitoring the development of the curfew's effects day by day...If we see that the virus starts to progress strongly again, we lock down," he added.

To Jean-Francois Delfraissy, head of the scientific council that advises the French government on COVID-19, a third confinement is needed to curb the viral circulation.

"The intermediate measures did not work enough to stop the (virus) variants...It will probably be necessary to move into confinement," Delfraissy told BFMTV on Sunday evening.

"If we do not tighten regulations, we will find ourselves in an extremely difficult situation from mid-March...In a difficult situation, the quicker you make a decision, the more effective it is, the more it can be of limited duration," he said.

Warning that "this week is critical," the French immunologist proposed to extend the February school holidays by at least one week.

As of Sunday, some 1.027 million people in France have received a first dose of vaccination against COVID-19, according to data released by the health ministry.

As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, vaccination is underway in France and some other countries with the already-authorized coronavirus vaccines.

Meanwhile, 237 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 64 of them in clinical trials -- in countries including Germany, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, according to information released by the World Health Organization on Jan. 22.

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