French PM details new restrictions on cusp of nation’s second Covid-19 lockdown

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French people will only be allowed to leave their homes for food shopping, medical appointments, pressing family reasons and to commute to work when the job cannot be done from home, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday ahead of a new Covid-19 lockdown starting at midnight.

France goes into its second nationwide lockdown this year from Friday, amid a surge in Covid-19 cases that has threatened to overwhelm French hospitals.

The nationwide lockdown will be enforced initially until December 1, though health experts have warned a longer clampdown may be necessary.

Detailing the new restrictions, Castex said people will be allowed outside for just one hour of exercise per day and no further than one kilometre from their homes.

For every outing, they will have to carry a document justifying their presence outside or risk a fine of €135.

Travel within France, including to holiday homes, will be prohibited, though borders with EU countries will remain open, the prime minister said. Visits to friends or family are also banned.

Earlier in the day, France’s lower house of parliament approved the new measures by a vote of 399 to 27 following a debate that was paused to maintain a minute’s silence for the victims of a deadly knife attack at a church in the southern city of Nice.

Under the new rules, French schools will require all students aged six and over to wear face masks in class, Castex said.

Until now masks were mandatory only for students 11 and older, but Castex told lawmakers in parliament that new efforts were needed "to protect all our children, teachers and parents."

Businesses allowed to remain open include garages, food shops, launderettes, opticians and newspaper vendors. Hotels will be allowed to maintain a reduced activity for work-related trips.

Places of worship will remain open, but no ceremonies will be allowed, the prime minister added.

Speaking after the prime minister, Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne said working from home will be mandatory except when it is technically impossible.

Lockdown until Christmas?

The new measures echo the eight-week lockdown that France enforced in the spring, though the government is hoping to cushion the blow for some sectors of the economy by leaving schools open.

"The economy must not stop, nor collapse," French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation on Wednesday announcing the new lockdown.

Macron has pledged additional financial relief for businesses, acknowledging that many were hoping to stay open ahead of the crucial holiday season that now seems jeopardised.

On Thursday, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said measures to support French companies would cost 15 billion euros per month of lockdown.

In his address on Wednesday, Macron stressed that, "the virus is spreading across France at a speed that even the most pessimistic did not predict."

He said the lockdown might start to ease once Covid-19 infections fall back to about 5,000 per day from around 40,000 per day at present.

But the government's scientific adviser, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, has warned that the lockdown may have to extend beyond December 1.

Speaking on France Inter radio, Delfraissy said the goal of bringing infections down to 5,000 a day was unlikely to be achieved by the end of November.

"By December 1, we will not be at 5,000 contaminations per day. I can tell you that straight away today. We will need more time," said Delfraissy, who heads the scientific council that advises the French government on the pandemic.

"The scenario is rather to have this lockdown period of one month, to look at the different types of markers and then to exit this containment through, by example, a curfew that could continue through December, possibly covering also Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and to end it only in early January", he said.

France on Thursday reported 235 new virus deaths over the past 24 hours, and more than 47,000 new positive tests.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)