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Curfew affecting 46 million people to take effect as France records 1 million COVID-19 cases

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A waiter closes a bar terrace in Paris, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.
A waiter closes a bar terrace in Paris, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Lewis Joly
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French president Emmanuel Macron said he had no choice but to extend a curfew to more than two-thirds of the population after official figures showed the country had now surpassed more than one million coronavirus cases.

"We have to do this," said Macron, as a new record of 42,032 positive COVID-19 cases was recorded in 24 hours on Friday, bringing the total to 1,041,075 confirmed cases since the start of the epidemic in March, according to official health ministry figures.

France will put at least 46 million of its residents under curfew in 54 departments and one overseas territory effective from midnight on Friday.

Some 38 departments were added to the curfew from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am, after nine metropolitan areas were restricted last week in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"In the phase we are in, we have no other choice, given the number of infections per day, than to reduce our social life as much as possible... if we really want to preserve our health system and our fellow citizens," the president explained after a meeting with the teams of the René-Dubos hospital in Pontoise, Val-d'Oise.

"It is too early today to say whether we are moving towards local or wider reconfinements", he added because we have to wait "until the middle of next week [to have] a clearer vision of the impact of the measures." He also indicated the country would have to live with the virus "at best until the summer of 2021".

Announcing the extension of the curfew to 38 new departments on Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex had already warned that if the epidemic was not contained, the government would "consider much tougher measures".

"The situation is serious. It is serious in Europe, it is serious in France," he said at a press conference.

"The health situation in our country has continued to degrade," Castex said, explaining that the virus progressed 40 per cent in one week. Cases are doubling every 15 days, Castex added.

He called on citizens to wear their masks, to wash their hands, and to respect a one-metre distance. He said it was a subject of "collective solidarity" to reduce social contacts.

"When we are not affected, we think we are untouchable," Castex said. "No one can consider themselves safe from this, even young people."

France has recorded a record number of daily cases in recent weeks, often surpassing 30,000 cases a day. That means, health minister Olivier Véran said, there are more than 1000 new cases every hour of the day and night.

"The month of November will be difficult," Castex said, and that the government could take stricter measures.

The country has now logged more than 34,000 deaths. Nearly 10,000 people are currently hospitalised in France with COVID-19. The test positivity rate in the country is over 13 per cent.

In hospitals in Paris, patients that go into intensive care, 50 per cent of whom are under the age of 65, can die or face difficult complications, officials explained.

The French government also launched a new version of their telephone application to help with the tracking of COVID-19 so that people with the application can be alerted if someone has tested positive.

The country has also increased their contact tracing initiatives, having restaurants keep contact information in case there is a COVID-19 case while people were dining.

France has also added funding for cultural projects for a total €115 million to support live theatre, music and cinemas that will be hit hard by the curfews.

"We need culture and maybe even more importantly, during this crisis," said culture minister Roselyne Bachelot.

It comes amid a second wave of COVID-19 in multiple European countries where many have counted record numbers of cases.

Germany, which had fared well in the first wave compared to its neighbours, recorded more than 10,000 cases in a single day on Thursday. Italy, which had been successful in keeping the incidence rate down, confirmed 16,000 cases in a single day on Thursday.