Covid France: Emmanuel Macron announces 7pm curfew as third wave surges across Europe

France will enter a third national lockdown for four weeks, French president Emmanuel Macron announced in an address to the nation on Wednesday night.

The decision comes as a third wave of Covid-19 – blamed largely on the so-called ‘British variant’ of the virus – surges across Europe and countries face a race against time to vaccinate their populations.

‘The epidemic is accelerating, and we are likely to lose control, so we must find a new way of reacting. We must therefore set ourselves a new framework for the coming months,’ the head of state said during the dramatic address.

Mr Macron said the British variant of Coronavirus was causing particular concerns in France, and that it had meant the situation had changed from when he was resisting calls for another lockdown amid spiralling infections.

‘We are faced with a new situation,’ he said. ‘We are involved in a race. Propagation of a new variant that was identified by our British neighbours’ must be dealt with.’ 

From Saturday, all of mainland France will be under a 7 p.m. curfew, working from home will be expected from those that can, gatherings will be limited, and non-essential shops will be closed.

This brings the whole country in line with 19 territories, and cities like Paris, which have had a limited lockdown imposed for the past two weeks.

The President also announced a three-week closure of nurseries, schools, colleges and high schools, that will have a staggered reopening from April 26. 

‘With regards to schools, we’ve all got to be aware of our responsibilities as far as our youth are concerned,’ said Mr Macron. ‘We’ve kept them open since September 2020, but this will now change.’ 

The president said non-essential shops would remain shut, along with businesses such as cafes, bars, and restaurants. 

Under the restrictions, people are allowed to go outside for leisure, but within a 6 miles radius from their homes – and without gathering. 

In a call for unity, he added: ‘If we stay united in the coming weeks … then we will see light at the end of the tunnel.’

France will enter a third national lockdown for four weeks, French president Emmanuel Macron announced in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, expanding current measures in 19 territories to the whole country. Pictured: Macron seen on TV on Wednesday night

France will enter a third national lockdown for four weeks, French president Emmanuel Macron announced in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, expanding current measures in 19 territories to the whole country. Pictured: Macron seen on TV on Wednesday night

France will enter a third national lockdown for four weeks, French president Emmanuel Macron announced in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, expanding current measures in 19 territories to the whole country. Pictured: Macron seen on TV on Wednesday night

Macron has sought to avoid the new country-wide lockdown since the second one ended in December, gambling on a nationwide curfew and local restrictions in the hope of giving the economy a chance to recover from a deep slump.  

But his options have narrowed in recent weeks as the feared British variant sweeps across France and Europe. 

The total number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months that the figure has been that high. 

Macron on Wednesday said numbers of hospital ICU beds will be increased ‘in the coming days’ from the current 7,000 to 10,000. 

In his address, Macron explained that ‘new data coming through’ means that the country must now take further action in response to the spread of the variant. 

He also defended the decision not to go into lockdown earlier in the year, and praised the country’s efforts so far in 2021.

‘In January, we chose to use the strategy – alert, test, protect – instead of going into widespread lockdown. We all agreed to that, and we all saw your efforts,’ he said.

‘And yet the virus continues to circulate. Many of our neighbours went into lockdown, we chose – as a united whole – to be able to live in a sense of freedom. 

‘I truly believe we acted rightly,’ he said defiantly, in the face of mounting criticism.

Mr Macron has come under intense criticism for allegedly ‘no longer following the advice of scientists,’ amid rising infections. 

Cases have spiralled to more than 40,000 new ones a day, and intensive care wards are overflowing. 

France's infection rate has soared in recent weeks in a resurgence blamed on the British variant of Covid-19, which has now resulted in a third national lockdown

France's infection rate has soared in recent weeks in a resurgence blamed on the British variant of Covid-19, which has now resulted in a third national lockdown

France’s infection rate has soared in recent weeks in a resurgence blamed on the British variant of Covid-19, which has now resulted in a third national lockdown

Death rates are also climbing and the total is nearing the tally of 100,000 which has already been reached by the UK and Italy

Death rates are also climbing and the total is nearing the tally of 100,000 which has already been reached by the UK and Italy

Death rates are also climbing and the total is nearing the tally of 100,000 which has already been reached by the UK and Italy 

The move is a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.

A debate is scheduled in parliament Thursday that will address the virus situation and the new measures.

‘The key factor in our decision-making remains the situation in hospitals,’ government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday after Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting and a Cabinet meeting.

After Paris hospital officials warned they would have to start refusing needy patients for lack of space, he said, ‘One thing is clear: France will not refuse care for any sick patients. Choosing patients is not an option.’  

Earlier this month, Mr Macron refused to apologise for his country’s Coronavirus strategy, saying: ‘I can tell you that I have no mea culpa to offer, no remorse, no acknowledgement of failure.’ 

The limited lockdown was imposed in 19 departments two weeks ago, including the greater Paris region, where some patients are being evacuated out of the capital city because of a lack of beds.

France is well behind countries such as Britain in its vaccine roll out, especially after a series of U-turns by Mr Macron over the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.

He at first said it was not suitable for those over 65, before announcing that it should not be given to those under 55.

People gather on the Saone river banks in Lyon on March 31, 2021, before the start of the daily curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19

People gather on the Saone river banks in Lyon on March 31, 2021, before the start of the daily curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19

People gather on the Saone river banks in Lyon on March 31, 2021, before the start of the daily curfew aimed at curbing the spread of the Covid-19

Macron was holding a weekly defence council meeting on the pandemic on Wednesday morning ahead of his address. 

A government source said options included a strict lockdown in hard-hit parts of France, school closures, and a massive operation to transfer patients from overloaded hospitals to lesser-hit regions.  

France’s National Council of the Order of Doctors has demanded another full shutdown, telling Macron in an open letter that ‘we must lock down’. 

‘Until we are massively vaccinated, wherever the situation is serious, we must confine ourselves,’ the letter said. 

Professor Philippe Juvin from Paris’s Georges Pompidou hospital said last week that a strict lockdown may be the only way to prevent a major healthcare crisis. 

Juvin told French TV that hospitals risked being overwhelmed to the point where they could neither treat Covid-19 patients nor others. 

‘The situation is critical,’ added Juvin, who is also the mayor of La Garenne-Colombes in the Paris region. 

Pictured: People in Nice enjoy the sunshine on Wednesday ahead of Macron's announcement

Pictured: People in Nice enjoy the sunshine on Wednesday ahead of Macron's announcement

Pictured: People in Nice enjoy the sunshine on Wednesday ahead of Macron’s announcement

France added more than 30,000 new infections on Tuesday, taking the daily average to 38,902 – a figure which has jumped by more than 50 per cent in a fortnight. 

Meanwhile the death toll is nearing 100,000 and daily fatalities have climbed to nearly 350 per day. 

Ten days ago, the government closed non-essential stores and limited people’s movements in Paris and other regions ravaged by the virus.

Mobility data analysed by Reuters showed those measures were having markedly less impact than prior lockdowns.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo meawhile told BFM TV that schools should be closed, after ministers pointed to continued teaching as an improvement on the first lockdown. 

France also used medical evacuations to ease the load on hospitals during the first two waves, but there has been more resistance from families in recent weeks. 

A Covid-19 patient is evacuated from the Paris area to Biarritz airport as authorities look to ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals

A Covid-19 patient is evacuated from the Paris area to Biarritz airport as authorities look to ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals

A Covid-19 patient is evacuated from the Paris area to Biarritz airport as authorities look to ease the pressure on overwhelmed hospitals 

Still, a government source said the evacuations under discussion would not require family consent.

France faces having to tighten measures just as Britain slowly emerges from the lockdown imposed by Boris Johnson in early January.

Macron had hoped France’s vaccine campaign would reduce the numbers falling gravely ill, but the vaccine rollout is still only now finding its stride. 

Only 12 per cent of the population has received a first dose, leaving the vast majority of French citizens still vulnerable to the disease. 

Macron has openly blamed the British variant for the resurgence, after scientists at the Institut Pasteur warned vaccines were coming too slowly to rein it in.  

The president will deliver his televised address at 8pm local time, 7pm in Britain.    

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