France announces 3-week school closure, domestic travel ban

Sylvie Corbet
Associated Press

Paris – French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a month-long domestic travel ban in an effort to fight the rapid spread of the virus.

In a televised address to the nation Wednesday night, Macron said efforts are needed as “the epidemic is accelerating.”

The Larragana family watch French President Emmanuel Macron addressing the nation in Ascain, southwestern France, Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

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“We’re going to close nursery, elementary and high schools for three weeks,” he said, in addition to a nationwide 7 p.m.- 6 a.m. curfew that will remain in place, and domestic travel restrictions.

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.

Youths gather along the Ill riverbanks in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, March 31, 2021.

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.”

Attal said “decisions were made” at the virus meeting but he did not divulge them before the president speaks. Whatever path is chosen, he warned, “we have difficult weeks ahead of us.”

Previous nationwide lockdowns in March and October 2020 were announced by Macron in televised speeches. His office said Wednesday that Macron will address the nation at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), without saying what he will announce.

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.

After an overnight shift at an ICU in the northern French city of Amiens, Dr. Pauline Caillard described growing numbers of patients and growing strain on medical staff.

“It is moving very fast,” she said. “I hope we do not have to make choices” between patients.

Short of a full lockdown, Macron is running out of alternatives to make a major dent in the renewed surge of infections that has led to growing questions about his government’s virus strategies. With presidential elections scheduled for 2022, Macron is having to weigh both political and health considerations.

An overnight nationwide curfew has been in place since January, and all France’s restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October. In Paris and other regions where the virus is spreading rapidly, residents already have extra restrictions on movement and nonessential stores are closed.