French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday, March 31, that the country was entering a new national lockdown following public frustration over how his government has been handling the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Before Macron’s announcement, around a third of the population of France was living under “light” lockdown measures, including the Greater Paris metropolitan area. This lockdown prevented people from wandering more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from their homes. Schools were open, as were most businesses. Workers were still allowed to go to their offices.
The new lockdown, which began on April 3, last for four weeks. It is much stricter and includes all of mainland France.
Speaking from his official residence, the Elysee Palace, Macron said that new lockdown measures were needed after his previous strategy of relying on targeted lockdowns failed to slow down the tide of new coronavirus cases. Public health officials have also blamed the spread of more contagious variants of the virus, as well as the country’s slow coronavirus vaccination campaign. (Related: Hospitals in France forced to SLOW DOWN COVID vaccinations as healthcare workers fall ill in droves.)
“We don’t have to lock ourselves in, but we need to limit our contacts,” said Macron during his announcement. “We tried to push back this day for as long as possible – but unfortunately it has now arrived. We will lose control if we do not act now.”
This will be the country’s third national lockdown since the pandemic began.
Schools and interregional travel to be shut down for several weeks
As part of the lockdown, schools around the country will be shut down for three weeks beginning on Monday, April 5. Students will have to spend one week in remote learning, after which schools will enter a two-week holiday as this year’s spring break is shifted to coincide with the last two weeks of the national lockdown.
After the lockdown ends, kindergarten and elementary school students will be allowed to return to in-person instruction. Middle and high school students will do remote learning for one more week before they can return to their physical classes.
“School is non-negotiable,” said Macron.
Travel between different regions of France is also prohibited for the duration of the light lockdown. The 7 p.m. curfew currently imposed on the 19 regions under the light lockdown will be extended to all of mainland France.
The new national lockdown is threatening to hamstring the already-glacially slow pace of France’s economic recovery from its slump last year. More than 150,000 businesses will have to temporarily shut down, costing the French economy 11 billion euros ($12.897 billion) per month, according to the Ministry of the Economy and Finance.
France’s lockdown will also threaten the recovery of the Eurozone – the 19 countries within the European Union that use the euro as its currency. France is the second-largest economy within the Eurozone, right behind Germany, and its temporary closure will dampen Europe’s hopes of bouncing back swiftly from the pandemic in the same way that economies around the world are slowly reopening.
Macron’s perceived mismanagement of the pandemic has shaken the country’s confidence in his leadership. The next presidential election is just 13 months away, and his approval rating has dipped to below 40 percent. Some of his critics believe he should have imposed a lockdown in January.
“We won precious days of liberty, weeks of learning for our children,” said Macron. “We allowed hundreds of thousands of workers to keep their heads above water without ever losing control of the pandemic. I think we did well.”
Macron is now pushing for the country to “accelerate the [vaccination] program as much as possible.” He has promised to provide coronavirus vaccines for anybody over the age of 60 from April 16, and anyone over 50 from May 15. The president said the country remains on-target to fully inoculate 30 million adults by the middle of June.
Macron said the combination of the strict national lockdown and a sped-up vaccination campaign will allow the country to slowly reopen starting from mid-May, starting with museums and other cultural venues and outdoor bars and restaurants.
“We can see a way out of this crisis,” said Macron.
Learn more about how countries in Europe like France and Germany are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.