France bans alcoholic drinks in public spaces under new Covid-19 lockdown measures

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Alcoholic drinks will be prohibited in French parks and other outdoor public spaces as part of the new limited nationwide lockdown to stem the Covid-19 crisis, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Thursday.

Addressing the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, Castex also said authorities would be quick to disperse groups of more than six people on riverbanks or squares after the new restrictions unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron late Wednesday.

Castex said he "unreservedly" condemned people who had not been respecting the rules, after images of beer-swigging crowds on riverbanks under spring sunshine in cities including Paris and Lyon.

Meanwhile, prosecutors should "systematically" probe organisers of clandestine parties for putting the lives of others in danger, he added.

By decreeing school closures and systematic work-from-home protocols, Macron hopes to ease pressure on hospitals facing a new surge in coronavirus cases that are overwhelming intensive care units.

But he refrained from demanding that people stay in their homes or avoid socialising completely, and authorised travel between regions over the coming Easter weekend.

Boycotts and anger

The French prime minister’s speech came at the start of a parliamentary debate on the new restriction measures. The National Assembly later voted to approve the new measures by 348-9, after opposition parties boycotted the vote en masse. The measures then became law when the Senate waved them through 39-2 – with a huge boycott in the 348-seat upper chamber.

It was as FRANCE 24's Luke Shrago had predicted before the voting: “The right-wing Les Républicains had already stated that they will not be voting. They said they don’t want to vote in a decision that’s already been made. The far-right National Rally had said that Macron had not resumed his responsibilities and, on the left wing, Jean-Luc Mélenchon had been saying that the measures are incoherent. Most have been saying that the measures do not go far enough.”

The new measures have been met with a mix of resignation and anger across France. "Lockdown, the sequel... and the end?" Le Figaro headlined its front page on Thursday, while daily Le Parisien said Macron was defending his strategy of "slowing without shutting down" even though "the situation has never been so dangerous or complicated."

Third wave peak within 10 days

The parliamentary vote comes a day after Macron, in a televised address to the nation, extended light lockdown measures from 19 areas including Paris to all of mainland France from April 3 for four weeks.

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.

“We don’t have to lock ourselves in but we need to limit our contacts,” Macron informed the nation Wednesday night. “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 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.

Daily new Covid-19 infections in France have doubled since February to average nearly 40,000. The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care breached 5,000 this week, exceeding the peak hit during the six-week second lockdown enforced late last year.

On Thursday, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said France could hit the peak of the third wave within 10 days with the new restrictions.

"We could reach a peak of the epidemic in seven to 10 days if all goes according to plan," Véran told France Inter radio. "Then we need two extra weeks to reach a peak in intensive care units that could occur at the end of April."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)