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The residents of Pas-de-Calais on the north coast joined those in the region’s port of Dunkirk – and the Mediterranean resort of Nice – already shut down on Saturdays and Sundays.

That puts more than 2 million people across France under the weekend restrictions, required to stay at home unless they can provide a written exemption.

With hospital capacity at 90% in Pas-de-Calais, the region’s prefect insisted the new restrictions were necessary to prevent local health services from being overwhelmed.

Two thirds of the cases recorded there recently have been the more contagious variant first detected in England, said local officials.

But with a 6pm-6am curfew already in place and non-essential shops closed there, the new restrictions will hurt already hard-pressed businesses.

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