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France mulls fresh Guiana lockdown as Covid-19 cases catapult

French gendarmes carry out controls outside a shop in the Guianese town of Remire-Montjoly, which is under curfew, on on June 20, 2020.
French gendarmes carry out controls outside a shop in the Guianese town of Remire-Montjoly, which is under curfew, on on June 20, 2020. AFP - JODY AMIET

France is ramping up health restrictions in its overseas territory of Guiana, where the spread of coronavirus has suddenly accelerated over the past ten days.

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Nearly 300 cases were recorded on Sunday, mostly in the capital Cayenne, bringing the territory’s total to almost 2,500. Paris has warned that residents may again be placed under strict lockdown if the situation fails to improve.

French Guiana shares a 730-kilometre border with Brazil, which has become the world’s second country – after the United States – to register more than 50,000 deaths from Covid-19.

An emergency civilian field hospital is being set up in Guiana's capital and will be operational “within days”, while medical reinforcements from France’s national health reserve were expected to arrive on Monday. The number of tests carried out in the territory will also be increased.

To further relieve pressure on the health system, a dozen patients are to be airlifted from Cayenne to hospitals in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Guiana’s prefect, Marc Del Grande, has tightened a curfew in the coastal municipality Kourou, home to the Guiana Space Centre. Kourou is the territory’s worst-affected city in terms of the number of Covid-19 cases per inhabitant.

Crisis 'under examination'

"If the virus’s reproduction rate remains high in the coming days, we will have to re-examine the possibility of reimposing a lockdown on Guiana,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement.

Local authorities may also take "targeted confinement measures, restrict movement and prohibit activities that allow too much contact", as well as extend the curfew to new areas.

Annick Girardin, the Minister for Overseas Territories, is expected to arrive in Guiana on Tuesday to evaluate the crisis. Ahead of her trip she said 1.8 million masks had been allocated to the territory, which is home to fewer than 300,000 people. 

During her two-day visit, Girardin will also travel to the Brazilian border to examine the possibility of “health cooperation” with authorities there.

Municipal elections scheduled for 28 June have been postponed in Guiana, with the government looking to extend the state of health emergency until the end of October.

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