PARIS (Reuters) – France has imposed a month-long lockdown on Paris and parts of the north after a failed vaccine deployment and the spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants forced President Emmanuel Macron to change course.
Since the end of January, when he has defied calls from scientists and some members of his government to lock down the country, Macron has said he will do whatever it takes to keep the euro area’s second-largest economy as open as possible.
However, this week it ran out of options as France and other European countries briefly suspended use of the AstraZenca vaccine.
Its Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said France was in the throes of a third wave, with the virulent variant first detected in Britain now accounting for 75% of cases. The intensive care services are under great pressure, especially in Paris where the incidence rate exceeds 400 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.
“The epidemic is getting worse. Our responsibility now is not to let it get out of our control, ”Castex said at a press conference.
France reported 35,000 new cases on Thursday and there were more COVID patients in intensive care in Paris than at the peak of the second wave,
Now was the time to tighten the restrictions, Castex said.
“Four weeks, the time it takes for the measures to have sufficient impact. (This is) the time we need to reach a threshold for immunization of the most vulnerable. “
Lockdowns will begin from midnight Friday in the 16 hardest-hit departments in France which, with the exception of one on the Mediterranean, form a corridor connecting the northern Channel port city of Calais to the capital.
Barbers, clothing stores and furniture stores will have to close, although bookstores and other sellers of essentials may remain open.
Schools will remain open and people will be allowed to exercise outdoors within 10 km (6.2 miles) of their homes. Travel outside the most affected areas will not be allowed without a compelling reason.
“Go outside, but not to party with friends,” the prime minister said.
Castex said France will resume inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine now that the European Medicines Agency has confirmed its safety.
Seeking to boost public confidence in the Anglo-Swedish vaccine, essential if France is to meet its goals, Castex said he would get the vaccine on Friday.
“I am confident that public confidence in the vaccine will be restored,” he said, while acknowledging that it could take time.
Although Macron has not ordered a national lockdown, the lockdowns could be extended to other regions if necessary and could further slow the country’s economic recovery.
The Paris region is home to nearly a fifth of the population and represents 30% of economic activity.
A nationwide nighttime curfew in place since mid-December remains in place, although it will begin an hour later, at 7 p.m.
The government had no regrets that it hadn’t locked down sooner, Castex said.
“It was the right decision in January. We would have had an unbearable three-month lockdown. We did well not to.
Not everyone agrees. In the intensive care unit of a private hospital on the outskirts of Paris, the doctors resigned themselves to having to once again face overloaded services.
“We are back here,” said warden Abdid Widad.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said some hospitals will start using monoclonal antibodies, which are synthetically engineered copies of infection-fighting proteins, on some patients at high risk of progressing to serious illness.