France aims to lift a nationwide lockdown on 15 December, President Emmanuel Macron said, with shops authorised to reopen as early as Saturday following weeks of closure.

In a TV address this evening, Mr Macron said some restrictions would remain in place to avoid "a third coronavirus wave" or another lockdown.

The current lockdown, in force since the end of October, will be replaced by a countrywide curfew from 9pm to 7am, starting 15 December.

Mr Macron said Christmas Eve and New Years Eve would be exempt from the curfew.

"We will be able to travel without authorisation, including between regions, and spend Christmas with our families," he said.

French people should, however, avoid "pointless travel", he added.

He said the country's ski resorts - which are among the most popular in Europe - will not be allowed to reopen in time for the end-of-year holiday season.

Coronavirus risks made it "impossible" to allow winter sports to resume quickly, he said, adding that is was preferable to plan for a reopening of the resorts in January "under favourable conditions".

The Haute-Savoie region in the French Alps yesterday reported the highest number of infections per 100,000 people in the entire country, closely followed by the neghbouring Savoie region.

Health authorities had warned that regional hospitals could become overwhelmed if crowds of skiers were allowed to travel there.

Mr Macron also said that he hoped that the first Covid vaccines would be available for use by the end of December or in early January.

"We are going to organise a swift and massive vaccination campaign", he said. "We will very likely, and pending authorisation by health authoritites, start vaccination of the most vulnerable populations as soon as the end of December or early January."

He added that vaccination would not be compulsory.

Mr Macron's comments come as the country's death toll from Covid-19 surpasses 50,000.

French health authorities said an additional 458 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, taking the total figure to 50,237.

World leaders urge patience

The disease remains rampant across the globe, with world leaders urging people to be patient.

In Brussels, the EU announced it was concluding a sixth contract to reserve doses - this time for up to 160 million from US giant Moderna.

"Every member state will receive it at the same time on a pro rata basis," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

Austria said it would acquire more than 16 million doses of the vaccine through the EU and could start a vaccination campaign in January.

The government in Spain, one of the worst hit countries in Europe, also said vaccinations could start in January and care home residents would have priority, followed by medical workers.

The UK government and devolved administrations have agreed to allow people to join 'Christmas bubbles' so that families can reunite over the festive period.

The temporary easing of measures will allow three households to mix in a bubble from 23 to 27 December.

Germany's 16 states have also agreed to slightly loosen limits on social contact over Christmas, with state leaders agreeing to cap gatherings at ten people between 23 December and 1 January.