Macron widened the light lockdown measures currently imposed on a third of the French population – including the Paris region – to all of mainland France. “We don’t have to lock ourselves in but we need to limit our contacts,” he said.
“We tried to push back this day for as long as possible – but unfortunately it has now arrived,” the president continued. “We will lose control if we do not act now.”
Macron also announced a closure of all schools and day care centres for three weeks until April 26. Yet he also justified his policy of keeping them open since the end of the first lockdown in spring 2020, which has received intensifying criticism over recent weeks: “School is non-negotiable,” he said.
Travel between different French regions will be banned for the duration of the nationwide light lockdown, while the 7pm curfew currently imposed on the 19 regions will be extended to all of mainland France.
Confirmed Covid-19 cases per day in France have doubled since February to nearly 40,000, with the number of patients in intensive care units surpassing 5,000 on Tuesday – exceeding the peak during the second lockdown last autumn.
On Wednesday, France’s complete death toll reached 95,337 since the start of the epidemic – prompting Macron to warn that the country may reach 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the coming days.
On a more positive note, the president said that café terraces and some cultural venues could re-open “under strict rules” from mid-May.
Macron emphasised that jabs are the route out of the nightmare: “Thanks to vaccines, the end of the crisis is on the horizon.”
He said the government’s objective was to “accelerate the programme as much as possible” – promising that anyone over 60 will be able to get a vaccine from April 16 and anyone over 50 from May 15.
As the EU's troubled jab procurement programme has led to slow inoculation rates, France had given out a vaccine dose to just 11.75 percent of its population by March 29 – compared to 45.19 percent in the UK, where the vaccine programme has raced ahead.