France’s La Reunion faces partial lockdown as Covid surges
France’s Indian Ocean territory of La Reunion will go into a partial lockdown due to a surge in Covid-19 cases, as Britain said the island was behind tight restrictions on travel from France.
There is growing concern among officials in Paris over the infection rates in France’s overseas territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific where vaccination uptake is far lower than the nationwide average.
The French military meanwhile said it was sending 40-50 doctors and nurses to the French Caribbean island of Martinique to fight a surge in cases.
A three-week partial lockdown was imposed in Martinique from last Friday.
The number of positive cases in Martinique has swelled from 2,241 last week to 3,537, while the incidence rate has ballooned from 280 cases to 995 for every 100,000 residents.
La Reunion will from Saturday for the next two weeks go into partial lockdown, with movement only allowed 10 kilometres (six miles) from people’s homes in the daytime and five kilometres on a Sunday, said its top official, Prefect Jacques Billant.
In the evenings, there will be a strict curfew from 6:00 pm at night until 5:00 am in the morning, with no movement allowed except for essential reasons, he added.
Cafes, restaurants and gyms will also close for the next two weeks.
He described the situation as “worrying”, saying that there was “unprecedented exponential growth of the epidemic” with 350 out of every 100,000 inhabitants infected.
The situation on La Reunion is being particularly closely watched after Britain said it was the main reason why travellers from France — unlike all other non-red list destinations — were still being obliged to quarantine for 10 days on arrival in the country.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that this was due to the prevalence of the Beta variant on La Reunion, which is off Madagascar and over 9,000 kilometres from Paris.
– ‘Discriminatory’ –
“It’s not the distance that matters, it’s the ease of travel between different component parts of any individual country,” he said.
A spokesman for Brittany Ferries, which runs ferries across the Channel, however said this logic is “like France hammering British holidaymakers due to a Covid outbreak on the (British Atlantic territory of the) Falkland Islands.”
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune earlier lambasted the British restrictions as “discriminatory towards French people” and making “no sense in terms of health policy”.
Beaune said the Beta strain accounted for fewer than five percent of Covid cases in France, and mostly occurred in overseas territories from where relatively few people travelled to the UK.
But Prime Minister Jean Castex earlier expressed alarm over the “dramatic” situation in some overseas territories, with only 3 out of every 10 adults vaccinated on La Reunion compared with over half nationwide.
The Caribbean territory of Martinique, where only 15 percent of people are vaccinated, will also go into a three-week lockdown from Friday with only limited movements allowed in daytime and a curfew from 7:00 pm, said its prefect, Stanislas Cazelles.