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PARIS: The French government has extended 240 billion euros ($283 billion) in financial aid to businesses hammered by the coronavirus pandemic since March 2020, mainly in the form of state-guaranteed loans, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced Monday.

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to protect French companies and their employees "whatever the cost" after many were forced to close during three nationwide lockdowns since the outbreak began.

"The bill for 'whatever the cost' stands at 80 billion euros in subsidies, and 160 billion euros in loans," Le Maire told France Inter radio.

The aid will now be limited to only the hardest-hit sectors such as tourism and leisure, whose representatives are to meet with Le Maire and other officials later Monday.

The government expects economic growth to hit six percent this year after France and other countries plunged into recession last year.

France reports over 10,000 new Covid-19 cases for third day

France's recovery "is going to continue," Le Maire said, in large part thanks to higher consumer spending that is helping the economy operate "at 99 percent of its capacities."

He added that the number of requests for the state-backed emergency loans fell to just 50,000 in July, compared with 500,000 last May.

Even businesses impacted by the requirement of a "health pass" for clients that proves Covid-19 vaccination or a recent negative test, such as restaurants, museums and cinemas, saw only a temporary drop in activity, Le Maire said.

Starting this week, companies will have to ensure that all employees in contact with the public also have the health pass, as France tries to encourage vaccine holdouts to get the jab.

So far nearly 72 percent of the population has received at least one dose -- one of the highest rates among Western countries -- while 43 million people (64 percent) have been fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry.

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