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MILAN/FRANKFURT: European shares ended higher on Tuesday, as the potential easing of lockdowns in France combined with optimism around the deployment of a coronavirus vaccine as early as the beginning of next year to lift hopes of a swift economic recovery.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.8% to its strongest close since late February, supported by strong gains in oil & gas stocks, which were set for their best month on record as crude prices hit their highest levels since late March.

The benchmark STOXX 600 has surged 14.5% so far this month and is on track for its highest monthly gain on record. France's benchmark CAC 40 rose 1.2% after the country on Monday reported its lowest daily tally of Covid-19 infections since Sept. 28, while investors awaited a speech by President Emmanuel Macron later on Tuesday when he may announce a relaxation of lockdown rules.

Italy's FTSE MIB was the top gainer among European indexes after a report suggested the country would get 16 million shots of the potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in the first months of 2021 under a supply deal agreed at a European Union level. British stocks climbed 1.6% after England said it would introduce a new system allowing the use of testing to shorten quarantine requirements for incoming passengers.

The news lifted travel and leisure stocks, among the worst hit by the pandemic due to restrictions on travel, by 2.7%. German shares jumped 1.3%, with exchange operator Deutsche Boerse revealing that the blue-chip index would expand to 40 from the current 30 companies with tougher membership criteria. Data also showed that Europe's biggest economy grew by a record 8.5% in the third quarter.