President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday ordered France into its third national lockdown and said schools will close for three weeks to stop a third wave of Covid-19 infections.
With the death toll nearing 100,000, intensive care units in the hardest-hit regions at breaking point and a slower-than-planned vaccine rollout, Macron has been forced to abandon his goal of keeping the country open to protect the economy, reports Reuters.
“We will lose control if we do not move now,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.
His announcement means that movement restrictions already in place for more than a week in Paris will now apply to the whole country for at least a month, from Saturday.
Departing from his pledge to safeguard education from the pandemic, Macron said schools will close for three weeks after this weekend.
Daily new infections in France have doubled since February to average nearly 40,000. The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has topped 5,000, exceeding the peak hit during a six-week-long lockdown late last year.
“Everyone should limit their contacts with other people,” Macron said, adding that people would be given the Easter weekend to get themselves to where they want to spend the lockdown.
France’s nationwide 7pm curfew will remain in place and people are again being asked to work from home.
The president said “the end of the tunnel” was in sight if people respected the new measures.
Parliament will debate the measures before voting on them on Thursday, according to the prime minister’s office.
The new lockdown risks slowing the pace of France’s economic recovery from last year’s slump by forcing the temporary closure of 150,000 businesses.
The set-back for France, the euro zone’s second-largest economy, may also dampen Europe’s hopes of bouncing back swiftly from the pandemic, in the way that the US and Chinese economies are doing.
France’s new lockdown underlines the cost of the European Union’s slow rollout of anti-Covid vaccines with just 12% of its population inoculated.
Neighbouring Britain has inoculated nearly half its population and is re-opening its economy just as France closes down once again.