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French business morale surges in March despite new restrictions

·1-min read
FILE PHOTO: Paris during the second national lockdown due to the spread of COVID-19 infection

PARIS (Reuters) - French business confidence rose sharply in March to its highest level since the coronavirus crisis broke as service and retail firms largely shrugged off the prospects of new restrictions, a survey showed on Thursday.

The INSEE official stats agency said its monthly business climate index rose to 97 points from 90 in February, hitting the highest level since February last year.

The improvement came even though many businesses were anticipating a new round of coronavirus restrictions in the face of steadily rising infection numbers and a faltering vaccination rollout.

INSEE said that most of the responses to the survey came in before March 18 when the government eventually imposed a new month-long soft lockdown on Paris and parts of northern France.

The new measures force non-essential retail outlets to close - although exceptions are numerous - and limit people's movements to 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) from home.

Even though coronavirus restrictions hit the service sector particularly hard, its index jumped to 95 points from 89 in February while the retail trade rose to 94 from 89.

Meanwhile, the index was unchanged for industry, where confidence has been holding up better as the coronavirus restrictions affect it less.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Toby Chopra)