Macron orders France back into Covid-19 lockdown amid surge in cases
French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a new nationwide lockdown from Friday to stem a surge in coronavirus patients in French hospitals, warning that the second wave of the virus is "likely to be deadlier than the first".
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"We have been overwhelmed by the rapid acceleration of Covid-19," Macron announced on Wednesday in a prime-time televised address, stressing that "all French regions are now in high alert".
The French president said a nationwide lockdown would be enforced initially until December 1, though schools and creches will remain open.
The new measures, which come into force on Friday, will mean people have to stay in their homes except to buy essential goods, seek medical attention, or use their daily one-hour allocation of exercise.
Cafes, restaurants and shops will shut down unless they are deemed to be selling essential goods, such as supermarkets and pharmacies.
People will still be allowed to go to work if their employer deems it impossible for them to do the job from home, Macron said.
"Like last spring, you will be able to leave your home only for work, for a doctor's visit, to help a relative, do essential shopping or go out shortly for air," the French president added.
Anyone outside their home will need to carry a written statement justifying their presence outside.
Over the past few weeks, France has been reporting tens of thousands of new infections per day and is now recording more than 380 new cases each week per 100,000 people.
Health officials recorded 523 virus-related deaths in 24 hours Tuesday, the highest daily tally since April, bringing the country's overall death toll to 35,541, the third-highest toll in Europe after Britain and Italy.
"The virus is circulating at a speed that not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated," Macron said in his address.
He added that lockdown measures would be gradually eased once new daily infections drop below the 5,000-mark, from a current average of 40,000.
"If in two weeks, we have the situation under better control, we will be able to re-evaluate things and hopefully open some businesses, in particular for the Christmas holiday," Macron said.
He added: "I hope we'll be able to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with family."
Lessons of first wave ignored
The new measures echo the eight-week lockdown that France enforced in the spring, when hospitalisations and deaths caused by the Covid-19 virus reached a peak.
The lockdown was effective at containing the pandemic, but it started spreading again after it was relaxed on May 11, and people started congregating again in classrooms, universities, bars and restaurants.
Many French doctors had been calling for a new nationwide lockdown, noting that 58 percent of the country's intensive care units are now occupied by Covid-19 patients and medical staff are under increasing strain.
“The government didn’t take into account what the first wave was and didn’t learn all its lessons,” Frederic Valletoux, president of the French Hospital Federation, said Wednesday on France Inter radio.
He called for a full, month-long lockdown, saying “this wave will be much more devastating for the hospital system. Hospitals won’t manage if we don’t take drastic measures.”
The French government had been loath to impose a new lockdown that will pummel the economy even harder, and business chiefs have warned a total shutdown will force another wave of layoffs and bankruptcies.
Economists say a full lockdown could impact Europe more broadly if other European countries hit hard by rising infections then follow France’s lead.
Earlier on Wednesday, Germany announced a four-week shutdown of restaurants, bars and leisure facilities in a bid to curb a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, following similar measures in Italy and Spain.
The new restrictions are likely to test the resolve and patience of a weary public.
Governments across Europe have been under fire for a lack of coordination and for failing to use a lull in cases over the summer to bolster defences, leaving hospitals unprepared and forcing people on to packed public transport to get to work.
Anger has already boiled over in Spain and Italy, where thousands have protested in recent days against anti-coronavirus curbs.
Some of the rallies have turned violent, particularly in Milan and Turin on Monday night when angry youths threw petrol bombs and stones at police cars and smashed up shop fronts.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)