PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a third of France’s population be put under nightly curfew on Wednesday to tackle a surging second wave of the coronavirus, saying now was not the time for conviviality.
The virus was spreading at parties and private gatherings, the president said, and action was needed now in Paris and eight other big French cities to slow the rate of infection or else hospitals risked being overwhelmed.
Macron said the curfews were to put a temporary halt to “the parties, the moments of conviviality where there are 50 or 60 people, festive evenings because, unfortunately, these are vectors for the acceleration of the disease.”
Macron announced the curfews, which will take effect from Saturday and run nightly from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning, hours after the government declared a new state of emergency.
The curfews will last an initial four weeks, but Macron said the government would seek a two-week extension from parliament, meaning the measures will be in place until Dec. 1.
“It means that we won’t go to restaurants after 9 p.m., we won’t go round to a friend’s place, we won’t go out partying,” the president said in an interview on national television.
France, like other European countries, is grappling with how to slow the virus’ spread and ease pressure on a once-again strained healthcare system while keeping its 2.3 trillion euro ($2.71 trillion) economy open and protecting jobs.
On Wednesday it reported 22,591 new cases, the third time in six days the daily COVID tally has gone beyond the 20,000 threshold. The virus has killed more than 32,000 in France.
The curfew applies to the Paris region, Marseille, Toulouse, Grenoble, Montpellier, Rouen, Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Lille. The cities have a combined population of about 20 million people.
“WELL GET THROUGH THIS”
Macron said France faced a worrying situation.
“We have to adopt stricter measures in order to completely restore control,” the president continued.
Essential trips during curfew would still be allowed, Macron said. There would be no restrictions on public transport, and people would still be able to travel between regions without restrictions.
Anyone violating the curfews will be fined 135 euros ($159).
Macron said the goal was to reduce the current rate of 20,000 new cases per day to around 3,000 and to sharply reduce the burden on intensive care units in hospitals.
The French government previously declared a state of emergency in March, when hospitalisations caused by the pandemic were near their peak. That time, the authorities used their extra powers to put France under lockdown except for essential work, buying food or taking one hour of daily exercise.
Another national lockdown was not envisaged, said Macron.
“We’ll get through this if we stick together,” the president said.
But the move is likely to infuriate France’s already-battered hospitality industry, reeling from the three-month spring confinement and a more recent government-ordered shutdown of bars in virus hotspots.
Brasserie manager Steve Dervechian said his turnover was down more than half over the summer and even more during lockdown. Depriving him of a dinner crowd would be a disaster, he said hours before Macron spoke.
“A curfew will not stop the virus. People congregate in public transport, at work, in schools,” he said. It’s not in places like ours where people gather in big crowds.”
Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraten and Christian Lowe; Additional reporting by Geert de Clercq; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Mike Collett-White and Toby Chopra
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