French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday was to detail before parliament new restrictions under a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, a day after President Emmanuel Macron said the drastic measure was necessary to curb a second wave of the virus that has been deadlier than expected.
Castex was set to address the National Assembly, France’s lower house, and then the Senate, where the measures will be put to a vote, before unveiling the new lockdown measures in a televised address Thursday evening.
France goes into a second nationwide lockdown this year starting midnight Thursday, amid a surge in Covid-19 cases that has threatened to overwhelm French hospitals.
He admitted that a curfew for Paris and other major cities imposed two weeks ago had failed to slow down a second wave of cases that has sent the death toll in France to nearly 35,000.
“As elsewhere in Europe, we are overwhelmed by a second wave that will probably be more difficult and deadly than the first,” Macron said.
“If we did nothing… within a few months we would have at least 400,000 additional deaths,” he said.
Already more than 3,000 intensive care patients are forcing hospitals to scramble for beds, and “no matter what we do, nearly 9,000 people will be in intensive care by mid-November,” he warned.
France on Wednesday reported 244 new virus deaths over the past 24 hours, and more than 36,000 new positive tests.
The new nationwide lockdown would be enforced initially until December 1, said Macron, although schools and creches will remain open.
Macron sends France back to lockdown as cases spiral out of control
Cafes, restaurants shut
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.
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‘The economy must not stop’
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.
But unlike during the two-month lockdown imposed last spring, students up to high-school level will continue to go to school.
Universities, which have been the source of several virus clusters since September, will have online classes only.
Factories and farms will also be allowed to operate, and some public services will function, to limit the economic damage that would come from shutting down the country completely.
Professional athletes will also be permitted to continue training and competing.
“The economy must not stop, nor collapse,” Macron said, though working from home will be the norm for companies that can manage it.
He has promised additional financial relief for businesses, acknowledging that many were hoping to stay open ahead of the crucial holiday season that now seems jeopardised.
“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,” he said.
“I hope we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with family,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)