France closes schools and bans domestic travel due to virus surge

Paris-Wednesday French President Emmanuel Macron announced a three-week national school closure and a one-month ban on domestic travel as the rapid spread of the virus increased pressure on hospitals.

Macron said in a television speech to the country that “the epidemic is accelerating” and that effort is needed.

“We plan to close nurseries, primary schools and high schools for three weeks,” he added, adding that the curfew will be maintained nationwide from 7 pm to 6 am.

“If we continue to unite in the next few weeks … we will see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Macron said restrictions already in place in the Paris region and elsewhere in northern and eastern France will be extended nationwide for at least a month. Under these restrictions, people are allowed to go out for leisure, but within a radius of 10 km (6 miles) from their home, they never get together. Also, most non-essential stores are closed.

This move is a departure from government policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalized restrictions. School closures in particular were considered a last resort.

Congress is scheduled to discuss the virus situation and new countermeasures on Thursday.

“A key factor in our decision-making remains the hospital situation,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday after Macron hosted the weekly Coronavirus Strategy and Cabinet Meetings.

health care worker
Healthcare professionals will take care of patients infected with COVID-19 at Amiens Picardy Hospital in Amiens, France, on March 30, 2021. (FrancoisMori / AP Photo)

He said after a Parisian hospital official warned that patients in need due to lack of space should begin to be rejected. Choosing a patient is not an option. “

The previous national blockades of March and October 2020 were announced by Macron in a television speech.

The total number of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit in France surged to over 5,000 on Tuesday. This is the first time in 11 months that this number has increased so much. Macron said Wednesday that the number of ICU beds in hospitals would increase “in the next few days” from the current 7,000 to 10,000.

Healthcare professional checks the screen
Healthcare professionals will screen the lungs of patients infected with COVID-19 at Amiens Picardy Hospital in Amiens, France, on March 30, 2021. (FrancoisMori / AP Photo)

After an overnight shift in the ICU in the northern French city of Amiens, Dr. Pauline Kylard explained the increasing number of patients and the increased burden on medical staff.

“It’s moving very fast,” she said. “I hope you don’t have to make a choice” among patients.

The proliferation of new infections raises questions about Macron’s viral strategy. With the presidential election scheduled for 2022, Macron needs to consider both political and health considerations.

The curfew came into effect in January, and all restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums in France are closed from October.

By Silvie Corbet