PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a one-month travel ban in the country, as the rapid spread of the virus increased pressure on hospitals.
In a televised address to the nation, Macron said efforts were needed as “the epidemic accelerated.”
“We will close kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools for three weeks,” he said, adding that a national curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. will be maintained.
“If we stand united in the weeks to come … then we will see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Macron said restrictions already in place in the Paris region and other parts of northern and eastern France would be extended to the entire country, 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 not to congregate. In addition, most non-essential stores are closed.
The move departs from government policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalised restrictions. School closures in particular were seen as a very last resort.
A debate is scheduled in parliament on Thursday to address the viral situation and the new measures.
“The key factor in our decision-making remains the situation in hospitals,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday after Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting and a Cabinet meeting.
After officials at the Paris hospital warned that they should start turning away patients in need for lack of space, he said: “One thing is clear: France will not refuse care for sick patients. Patient choice is not an option. “
Previous nationwide lockdowns in March and October 2020 were 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.
After a night of work in an intensive care unit in the city of Amiens, in northern France, Dr Pauline Caillard described an increasing number of patients and 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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