Border restrictions introduced by France to curb the spread of coronavirus variants have halved air passenger numbers in the past week, the transport minister said on Sunday, defending the government’s avoidance of a new lockdown.

The French government has so far resisted calls from health experts to impose a third nationwide lockdown, aiming to rein in high contamination rates through an evening curfew, curbs on leisure activities and the tougher rules on foreign travel.

Since last Sunday, France has banned non-essential travel to and from destinations outside the European Union, as well as to French overseas territories.

“This is bringing results, with passenger numbers halved compared with the previous week,” Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, a junior minister in the French government, told news channel LCI.

The border measures would remain in force at least until the end of February, he said.

While pressure on France’s hospitals has eased slightly, the level of new daily infections has remained relatively steady above 20,000 since last month, and doctors fear that could increase with the circulation of more transmissible variants of the coronavirus.

France has refused boarding to more than 700 passengers for failure to justify their travel, the minister said.

It had also been monitoring several airlines for non-compliance but no action was taken apart from a brief suspension of Ethiopian Airlines, he said.

Latest travel restrictions have added to difficulties for airlines. The French government is negotiating a bailout for Air France, part of Air France-KLM, with the EU’s executive.

(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Photo Credit: A ban on non-essential travel in France has greatly reduced air travel into the country, leaving airports like De Gaulle (pictured) in Paris even more desolate. Terry / Flickr