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French virus data encouraging but too soon to claim victory - minister

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s health minister said on Monday it was too early to claim victory over a resurgence in coronavirus infections even if recent data showed some encouraging signs during a second national lockdown.

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Olivier Veran said that authorities were in the process of gradually regaining control over the COVID-19 pandemic but warned that it was too soon to let up.

“We have not defeated the virus yet,” Veran told reporters in Lyon, adding that that as long as daily infection numbers did not drop significantly and the hospital system remained under pressure, lockdown measures must continue.

France entered a second nationwide lockdown on Oct. 30, which is set to last at least until early December.

After hitting a peak of 86,852 new infections per day on Nov. 7 - nine days into lockdown - new daily infections have dropped sharply to an average of 27,786 over the past week.

With nearly two million confirmed cases, France has the world’s fourth-highest case count and the highest in Europe.

On Saturday, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19, which had risen virtually without interruption since mid-August, finally fell, by a modest 208, to 32,499.

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Numbers in intensive care also dropped for the first time in months, prompting Veran to tell regional newspapers on Sunday that it looked like France was past the peak of the pandemic.

But on Sunday evening, hospital numbers jumped again by 582 to 33,081 and remained above the highest level registered during the first lockdown.

With no date yet on when or how the lockdown might ease, the government is under fire from church leaders over the ability of citizens to worship, as Catholics held protest open-air masses in the cities of Nantes and Versailles. Prime Minister Jean Castex is set to meet religious leaders on Monday.

Shopowners called on the government to be allowed to reopen for the Nov. 27-29 “Black Friday” discount weekend. They have been struggling to compete against giant online retailer Amazon, which is continuing operations throughout lockdown.

In an open letter published by francinfo radio, leftist politicians and NGOs called for an exceptional tax on Amazon’s revenue and urged the government to block its expansion.

“With the crisis and the lockdown, Amazon threatens the very survival of the retail industry,” they wrote.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Matthieu Protard and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Mark Heinrich

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