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image caption San Francisco’s local lockdown begins on Sunday night, slightly earlier than in some other parts of the state
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.
More than half of the state’s 40 million people will be subject to a stay-at-home order, as announced by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday.
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 be the first areas to come under the new restrictions, at 23:59 local time on Sunday (07:59 GMT on Monday).
Other areas could follow within days. San Francisco will have its own local lockdown also starting on Sunday.
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 after the US reported on Saturday a record number of coronavirus cases in 24 hours for the third day in a row – 230,000.
In the same period, 2,527 deaths were recorded. For the past two weeks, the US has regularly seen more than 2,000 deaths a day, similar to the early days of the pandemic.
The surge could be partly down to last week’s Thanksgiving holiday, when millions of Americans travelled around the country.
What is being proposed?
Governor 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 will be able to stay open, although only at 20% capacity, along with outside spaces such as parks and beaches.
However, gatherings will be prohibited, and people will be required to stay at home and minimise contact with other households.
Bars, hair salons and indoor restaurants will be 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.
How did it come to this?
The situation in California reflects a surge in infections nationwide.
Over the past week, the state averaged nearly 18,000 new cases and nearly 100 deaths per day.
It has recorded more than 1.3 million infections and nearly 20,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Intensive care capacity at two of the five regions set up by state officials for the purposes of the stay-at-home order – Southern California and the central San Joaquin Valley – fell below 15% on Friday.
Southern California, which includes Los Angeles and San Diego, the state’s two largest cities, fell to 12.5% on Saturday, and San Joaquin to just 8.6%.
Meanwhile, San Francisco city authorities announced their own lockdown with similar measures starting 22:00 on Sunday (06:00 GMT on Monday).
What difficulties are the authorities facing?
Republican opponents of the Democratic authorities in the state and many of its municipalities have questioned the efficacy of the new measures, and say they could harm the local economy.
“Every state is experiencing a surge, which begs the question, how do these shutdowns actually reduce cases?” state legislator James Gallagher told Fox News.
Research has found that lockdown measures have been associated with reduced infection numbers, while the World Health Organization also urges people to “avoid spaces that are closed, crowded or involve close contact” during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Governor Newsom has been facing accusations of hypocrisy. In November he visited a high-class restaurant in the Napa Valley, contrary to his own guidance.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed dined at the same restaurant on a different night. Both have apologised.
But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany seized on the errors.
“These images… make clear Democrats’ mind-set: rules for thee but not for me,” she said.