France to close borders to non-EU countries, steps back from new lockdown

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People wearing face masks walk on the Palais Royal grounds in Paris on January 16, 2021

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Friday said the country would close its borders to non-European Union countries for all except essential travel, while stepping back from a widely anticipated third lockdown.

The travel ban will come into force from Sunday to try to limit the spread of new variant cases of coronavirus from abroad.

Castex, speaking after a meeting of the country's defence council, said he was not announcing a fresh national lockdown for now, adding that "the next few days will be decisive" in terms of any possible new restrictions.

President Emmanuel Macron added: "Lockdown is a legitimate question... (but) we all know the heavy impact that has on all fronts."

In an attempt to stem the number of new infections, Castex said big shopping centres -- excluding those selling food -- would be closed from Sunday and enforcement of the current 6pm curfew would be stepped up.

"More police and gendarmes will be mobilised to check non-compliance with the curfew, the organisation of clandestine parties and the illegal opening of restaurants."

He said only essential travel would be allowed to and from non-EU countries and all arrivals in France from inside the bloc except cross-border workers would be required to show a negative PCR test.

The requirement was previously imposed for air and sea travellers but would now also apply to those travelling by land too.

With schools and shops still open but restaurants and bars closed, France has fewer restrictions than some European neighbours.

The government, however, has been aware of growing fatigue among the public and alarm at the prospect of a third lockdown.

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