French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a one-month travel ban, as the rapid spread of the virus increased pressure on hospitals.
In a televised address to the nation, Macron said further efforts were needed as “the epidemic accelerated.”
This is a departure from government policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalised restrictions. School closures in particular were seen as a very last resort.
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“We will close preschool, elementary and secondary schools for three weeks,” Macron said, adding that a national 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will be maintained.
Macron said restrictions already in place in the Paris region and elsewhere will be extended to the entire country next week, for at least a month. Under these restrictions, people are allowed to go out for leisure, but within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of their homes and without socializing. In addition, most non-essential stores are closed.
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In addition, Macron has promised to speed up the vaccination campaign by giving access to all people aged 60 and over in mid-April, to those 50 and over in mid-May and to the rest of the population. a month later. So far, France has given priority to people living in retirement homes and people aged 70 and over, as well as health workers and people with serious health problems.
“If we stay united in the coming weeks … then we will see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Macron said.
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He said the school closings were aimed at avoiding major disruption by postponing the date of the planned Easter break. All children will receive online education next week, Macron said. Then they will go on vacation for two weeks.
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Macron reaffirmed his point of view against a prolonged closure of schools as “increasing social inequalities”. According to figures reported by the United Nations education agency UNESCO, to date France has closed schools for a total of 10 weeks since the start of the pandemic _ compared to 27 weeks in the UK, 28 weeks in Germany and 47 in the United States.
A debate is scheduled in parliament on Thursday to address the viral situation and the new measures.
Previous nationwide lockdowns in March and October 2020 were also announced by Macron in televised speeches.
The total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surpassed 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months that the figure has been so high. Mr Macron said on Wednesday that the number of ICU hospital beds would increase “in the coming days” from 7,000 to 10,000. He said 44% of patients currently in intensive care were under the age of 65.
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After a night shift in an intensive care unit in Amiens, northern France, Dr Pauline Caillard described the growing number of patients and the increasing pressure on medical staff.
“It’s going very fast,” she said. “I hope we don’t have to make a choice” between the patients.
The upsurge in infections has led to growing questions about Macron’s viral strategies. With the presidential elections scheduled for 2022, Macron must weigh both political and health considerations.
A national overnight curfew has been in place since January, and all restaurants, bars, gymnasiums, cinemas and museums in France have been closed since October.
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