• Murhaf Radi, Europe Editor

Covid: Most of California faces strict new lockdown as cases surge

Large parts of the US state of California are facing a strict new lockdown, as Covid-19 cases surge across the state and the country.

The stay-at-home order affects around 85% of the state's 40 million people. It will be in place for at least three weeks and cover the Christmas holiday.

Many businesses will be closed, and people will be banned from meeting anyone outside their household.

The order was triggered by intensive care capacity in hospitals shrinking.

The southern part of the state and its central valley will come under the new restrictions at 23:59 local time on Sunday (07:59 GMT on Monday).

A local lockdown in San Francisco came into force slightly earlier. Other areas could follow within days.

California's lockdown in March, in which all non-essential businesses were closed, was seen as an early model for the US at the beginning of the pandemic.

The measures come as a record 101,487 people were in hospital across the US on Sunday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. An additional 1,138 deaths were recorded.

The country has seen a rise in cases and Covid-related deaths in recent weeks. The surge could be partly down to last month's Thanksgiving holiday, when millions of Americans travelled around the country.

Governor Gavin Newsom has ordered that when capacity at intensive care units in any of five regions of the state goes below 15%, that region will go into lockdown within 24 hours.

The stay-at-home orders triggered in this way will be similar to the far-reaching order issued for the state after the pandemic first hit in March, but with a few significant relaxations:

All retail stores are able to stay open, although only at 20% capacity, along with outside spaces such as parks and beaches

Gatherings are prohibited, and people are required to stay at home and minimise contact with other households

Bars, hair salons and indoor restaurants are closed

The lockdown will last for at least three weeks, and until ICU capacity goes above 15% again.

Mr Newsom said the measures would help to "flatten the curve" and reduce the pressure on health services.

"We are at a tipping point in our fight against the virus and we need to take decisive action now to prevent California's hospital system from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks," he said last week.

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