Here is my colleague Jon HenleyTonight’s report on the announcement of the closure of French schools for at least three weeks and the ban on travel within the country for a month after Easter.
It comes amid a dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases that threatens to overwhelm hospitals in several parts of the country. Here is an exerpt:
In a televised address to the nation, the President, Emmanuel Macron, said the government had waited “until the last moment” to impose further restrictions, winning the country “precious weeks of freedom”, but that “now we have to make another big effort”.
In January, Macron rejected the scientific advice to impose a strict lockdown and instead ordered a night and night curfew, but kept schools and stores open in a “third way” intended to limit the impact on economics and mental health.
The government also this month closed non-essential stores and restricted travel to Paris and 20 other hard-hit areas, measures criticized by many healthcare professionals as insufficient to counter the more contagious British variant that was originally more contagious. of the third wave of France.
But with daily infections doubling to 40,000 since February and more than 5,000 Covid patients in intensive care – highest since October – tighter restrictions have become inevitable, with many experts saying only a full lockdown will suffice.
Macron said the rapid spread of the most contagious variant meant restrictions already in place in 20 departments would be spread across the country from Saturday, with most shops closed, with people banned from traveling more than 10 km from their homes and working from home to be the rule.
Interregional travel will be banned from April 5, to allow for already planned Easter trips, he said, but added: “We need to limit all contact as much as possible, including family reunions. We now know: this is where the virus spreads. ”
All schools would switch to distance education starting next Tuesday, Macron said, followed by two weeks of vacation for all students. Elementary students will return to class on April 26, but high school students will have an additional week of online classes.
Macron also announced the creation of 3,000 additional intensive care beds, concentrated in the hardest hit areas, bringing the total to just over 10,000. “We have endured a year of suffering and sacrifice,” a- he said, “But if we stay united and organized, we will reach the end of the tunnel. April will be a critical month. ”
Health officials on Tuesday reported 569 new intensive care patients in 24 hours, the highest number since April last year during the first wave of the pandemic. The death toll has also started to rise, averaging nearly 350 a day over the past seven days, up from just under 250 last week.
Macron, who faces presidential elections next year, said he had “no regrets” about his choices, describing every day out of the lockout as a bonus. His decision not to follow science advice to lock in January was popular with voters.
After a dismally slow start, mainly due to a shortage of doses, France’s vaccination campaign has accelerated, with 350,000 to 400,000 injections per day now administered and the country on track to meet its vaccination targets. 20 million people by May 15 and 30 million – about half of the population – in mid-June.