The French Riviera, the famous strip along the Mediterranean coast that includes jet set hotspots like Saint-Tropez and Cannes, will be locked down over the next two weekends in an attempt to tackle a sharp increase in coronavirus infections.
France has been under a nighttime curfew since mid-January and restaurants, cafes and museums remain closed, but the government of President Emmanuel Macron has resisted the implementation of a third national lockdown.
It was a calculated bet, Mr Macron hoping he can tighten restrictions just enough to prevent another outbreak of infections without resorting to the tougher rules in place in many other European countries.
The strategy has largely worked, but infection rates remain stubbornly high about 20,000 new cases per day. Officials have made it clear that existing national restrictions will not be relaxed and that more local lockdowns could be applied in the coming days.
The French Riviera, which includes the city of Nice, has the highest infection rate in the country, and officials are increasingly alarmed as they jump to 600 cases per week per 100,000 population – around three times the national rate.
“The epidemic situation has deteriorated sharply,” said Bernard Gonzalez, regional manager for the Alpes-Maritimes, on Monday, announcing the lockdown, which will affect the coastal area between the towns of Menton and Théoule-sur-Mer.
Officials said checks at the border with Italy, at airports and on roads will be tightened and police will carry out random coronavirus tests. New measures also include the closure of all department stores and an acceleration of the vaccination campaign.
Infection rates surged as many French people flocked to the coast, drawn to the temperate Mediterranean climate as they sought to escape dark cities like Paris.
“We will be happy to receive a lot of tourists this summer, once we have won this battle,” Christian Estrosi, the mayor of Nice, said last week. “But better to have a period while we say ‘Don’t come here, this is not the time.'”