France braces for possible new lockdown measures as Covid-19 hospitalisations mount

·2-min read

France is bracing for a potential new lockdown as President Emmanuel Macron prepares a televised address Wednesday aimed at stopping a fast-rising tide of coronavirus patients in French hospitals and a growing daily death toll.

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Macron is to address the nation on Wednesday evening to present new measures that will be decided at back-to-back meetings of the defence council and cabinet, the presidency said.

"We have to prepare for difficult decisions," Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told France Inter radio.

"At some point we have to make hard choices ... as our neighbours have," he said, referring to strict new measures announced for Italy, Spain and elsewhere in Europe.

Many French doctors are urging a new nationwide lockdown, noting that 58 percent of the country's intensive care units are now occupied by Covid-19 patients and medical staff are under increasing strain.

“The government didn’t take into account what the first wave was and didn’t learn all its lessons,” Frederic Valletoux, president of the French Hospital Federation, said Wednesday on France Inter radio.

He called for a full, month-long lockdown, saying “this wave will be much more devastating for the hospital system. Hospitals won’t manage if we don’t take drastic measures.”

Business owners push for compromise

The French government has been loath to impose a new lockdown that would pummel the economy even harder, and business chiefs have warned a total shutdown would force another wave of layoffs and bankruptcies.

Instead, the authorities imposed a curfew this month that now requires about 46 million people – two-thirds of the population – to be home from 9pm to 6am, as the number of daily virus cases has flared.

Business owners and some politicians are pushing for a compromise, such as local lockdowns in the hardest-hit areas, or a lockdown that would allow schools to stay open.

Economists warn that a full lockdown could impact Europe more broadly if other European countries hit hard by rising infections then follow France’s lead.

France reported 523 virus-related deaths in 24 hours Tuesday, the highest daily tally since April, bringing its overall death toll to 35,541, the third-highest toll in Europe after Britain and Italy.

Over the past few weeks, France has been reporting tens of thousands of new infections per day and is now recording more than 380 new cases each week per 100,000 people.

Media reports say Macron, who met to discuss the surge with senior ministers Tuesday, might extend the curfew hours and possibly impose a full lockdown on weekends, or else order targeted lockdowns for the hardest-hit regions.

Another option could be to postpone the return of students from the autumn holiday that ends this weekend, in particular to high schools and universities.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)