As the rapid spread of the coronavirus increased pressure on hospitals, French President Emmanuel Macron declared a three-week nationwide school closure and a month-long domestic travel ban.
Mr Macron said efforts are needed because “the epidemic is escalating” in a televised address to the country.
“We’re shutting nursery, primary, and high schools for three weeks,” he said, adding that a national curfew of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. would be maintained.
“We will see light at the end of the tunnel if we remain together in the coming weeks,” he said.
Mr Macron declared that existing restrictions in the Paris region and other parts of north and eastern France would be extended to the entire country for at least one month. People are permitted to go outside for recreation, but only within a 10-kilometer radius of their homes — and without gathering.
The majority of non-essential stores have also closed. The decision is a departure from the government’s recent strategy of focusing on regionalized restrictions. Closing schools, in particular, had been seen as a last resort.
On Thursday, there will be a discussion in parliament about the virus situation and the latest steps.
“The situation in hospitals remains the most important factor in our decision-making,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said after Mr Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting and a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
“One thing is clear: France would not deny treatment for any sick patients,” he said after hospital officials in Paris warned that they would have to start refusing poor patients due to a lack of space.
It is not possible to choose patients.”
Mr Macron declared previous national lockdowns in televised speeches in March and October 2020.
On Tuesday, the total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surpassed 5000, marking the first time in 11 months that the number had reached that level. Mr Macron announced on Wednesday that the number of hospital ICU beds would be increased from 7000 to 10,000 “in the coming days.”
Dr. Pauline Caillard identified rising numbers of patients and mounting pressure on medical staff after an overnight shift at an ICU in the northern French city of Amiens.
“It’s going at a breakneck speed,” she said. “I hope we don’t have to choose between patients,” says the doctor.
The resurgence of infections has raised concerns about Mr Macron’s anti-virus strategies.
With presidential elections looming in 2022, Mr Macron must consider both political and health factors.
Since January, a national curfew has been in effect, and all restaurants, pubs, gyms, cinemas, and museums in France have been closed.