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By Benoit Van Overstraeten
PARIS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - There is no need to close schools in France but new restrictive measures must be taken to slow the COVID-19 infection rate and in particular the spread of the British variant, the government's top scientific adviser said on Wednesday.
Speaking on franceinfo radio, Jean-François Delfraissy added that he was "very concerned" by this more contagious variant spreading in other European countries around France and stressed the need to take action as soon as possible.
"The faster we take decisions, the more efficient they will be," he said.
President Emmanuel Macron is discussing a possible further tightening of measures with senior ministers. A nationwide curfew could be brought forward to 6 p.m. from 8 p.m., as has already happened in some parts of the east and southeast, French media reported.
A third national lockdown seems off the table for now, even though the number of daily new infections, averaging more than 18,000, is almost four times higher than government's target of less than 5,000 when it ended the second lockdown on Dec 15.
Even though Delfraissy said the government should not close schools to curb the spread of the disease, he did recommend they should be monitored more closely, adding that a school should be closed as soon as one case of the British variant was detected.
Delfraissy also confirmed the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were effective against the British variant but said that had not been established for the South-African variant.
"There are also other variants, one discovered in the Eastern part of Switzerland and a Brasilian one, which we don't really know much about", he said.
Delfraissy confirmed the British variant accounted for an estimated 1% of the latest new COVID-19 infections in France, saying that amounted to about a 1,000 cases in the country.
He described the three coming months as a "race" between the British variant of the virus and the ability to vaccinate the most vulnerable people.
The French government, wary of a strong anti-vaccination sentiment in France, has been under fire for the slow pace of its vaccination campaign compared to other countries even though the rollout has sped up in the recent days.
"The coming three months will be difficult, the situation will slightly improve during the spring but should really get better at the end of the summer", Delfraissy said, adding he was optimistic about the vaccination campaign. (Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Richard Lough and Philippa Fletcher)