Amid rising concerns about more contagious strains of the coronavirus spreading across the European Union (EU), France has said that it will be closing its borders to people arriving from outside the EU from Sunday to try to stop the growing spread of the new variants of the virus and avoid a third lockdown.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the new measures on Friday night after an emergency government health security meeting at the presidential palace, warning of a "great risk" from the new variants.
More transmissible UK and South African strains pose a risk of a surge in virus cases in the republic, he warned, adding that all big shopping malls will be shut and clients of smaller ones will be spaced further out starting next week.
Meanwhile, the new restrictions will affect the UK, now no longer in the EU, but UK transport secretary Grant Shapps clarified on Twitter that the change would not impact hauliers transporting goods to or from the UK.
"French PM Jean Castex has announced that France is to close its borders to all countries outside the EU from Sunday. However, I can confirm that this does NOT apply to hauliers, so trade will continue to flow smoothly," Grant Shapps tweeted.
Meanwhile, Castex 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, reported the BBC.
France already had limits on cross-border travel because of the virus, and had imposed tougher checks at airports and ports last week.
International tourism to France has slowed to a trickle because of the pandemic, and restaurants and tourist sites along with many hotels have been closed since October. France will also close all large shopping centres starting Sunday and limit travel to, and from, its overseas territories.
Castex ordered stepping up of police checks of those who violate France's 12-hour-a-day curfew, hold secret parties, or reopen restaurants in defiance of a closure order in place since October.
Virus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have been rising steadily but not sharply in France in recent weeks, and many doctors have been urging a new nationwide shutdown like those imposed in several other European countries.
(With inputs from agencies)