Paris — France is going back into lockdown as the country battles a third wave of coronavirus infections. It’s the third time during this pandemic that the French have been told to stay home. This lockdown starts on Saturday and is due to last four weeks.
The numbers of new coronavirus infections keeps soaring, with 59,000 new cases recorded in the 24 hours to Wednesday alone. To date, 4.64 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in France, and the disease has claimed almost 96,000 lives.
Hospitals across the country are overflowing and non-essential surgeries are being cancelled. More than 5,000 patients are in intensive care this week.
Announcing the new restrictions, French President Emmanuel Macron said an “extra effort” was needed to defeat the virus.
Non-essential travel between regions will be banned from Saturday, but Macron said there would be a policy of tolerance over the weekend for people wanting to decamp to second homes or to hunker down with family elsewhere to ride out the lockdown.
Schools will close for three weeks from Monday, a period which includes the spring break. That’s left parents in cities scrambling to decide whether to flee their urban environs and make a break for second homes or family in the countryside, or to sit tight, knowing they’ll soon have to return to working and schooling from home.
The decision to close schools and effectively ban vacations during the school holidays, with all accommodation and attractions closed, had been expected. The third wave began shortly after school holidays in February, which saw many French families take to the mountains or the coast for a break, thus spreading the virus farther and faster.
The coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K. now accounts for 76% of all cases in France. It’s been shown to spread more easily, and younger people seem to be more vulnerable to it, than earlier strains.
The vaccine rollout in France,, has been slow. Macron promised that it would speed up in the coming weeks, but so far only 8% of the population has received a first dose. France is vaccinating by age group — over-70s became eligible for their first dose on March 27.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Thursday that the new measures could have “a strong impact” on the epidemic, voicing hope that the third wave could peak within 7-10 days.
Paris and 18 other areas have already been under lockdown restrictions, with the vast majority of businesses closed, since March 20. Similar measures will now apply nationwide, with all non-essential stores set to close from Saturday.
People will be allowed outdoors, but only within a six-mile radius of their homes. Even outdoor gatherings will be banned, in an attempt to break a growing trend for friends meet for curbside drinks.
Organized parties or large gatherings, indoors or outdoors, have been banned for months. Now President Macron has warned that the police will come down hard on anyone found flouting that rule. And on top of the lockdown, a nationwide curfew is going into effect from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
As some other countries begin to lift their lockdowns, the French are wondering when they can expect any hint of a return to normality.