French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday ordered a nighttime curfew for Paris and eight other French cities to contain the spread of Covid-19 after daily new infection rates reached record levels.
In a televised interview, Macron said residents of those cities – which combined are home to close to a third of the French population – would not be allowed to be outdoors between 9pm (1900 GMT) and 6am (0400 GMT) from Saturday, for a duration of at least four weeks, except for essential reasons.
"We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus," Macron said, adding the measure would stop people visiting restaurants and private homes in the late evening and night.
"We are going to have to deal with this virus until at least the summer of 2021," Macron said, saying "all scientists" were in agreement on that point.
'We won't be partying’
He said new daily coronavirus cases must be brought down to "3,000 or 5,000", from current levels, which have reached up to almost 27,000.
In addition to Paris and its region, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Rouen, Saint-Étienne and Toulouse were being targeted by the measures, Macron said. That meant that around 20 million people would be affected out of a total population of some 67 million.
"We won't be leaving the restaurant after 9pm," Macron said. "We won't be partying with friends because we know that that's where the contamination risk is greatest."
FRANCE 24’s chief foreign editor Rob Parsons said that the curfews’ 9pm start time will hurt businesses that depend on evening patrons.
“That will be very concerning, in particular to restaurants, theatres, cinemas … which depend on clientele arriving at about 8pm or so,” Parsons said.
Macron said in his interview there would be financial support to compensate for their loss, but nevertheless, Parsons said, the 9pm shutdown “will be a blow to that sector of the French economy”.
The French hospitality sector immediately pushed back against the curfews, calling them "a closure in disguise" for restaurants, cafes and hotels, according to a joint statement from their federations.
Macron also acknowledged the measure was hard on young people, but that the health crisis left little choice. "It's hard to be 20 in 2020," he said.
He urged people to limit gatherings in their homes to six people, and to wear protective masks on such occasions.
Anyone found to be outdoors during the curfew without special authorisation would face a fine of €135, and more than 10 times that sum for repeat offenders, Macron said.
"We are in a worrying situation," Macron said, while insisting France had not "lost control" of the virus and a second full lockdown, like the two-month measure earlier this year, would be "disproportionate".
Macron said 32 percent of France's 5,000 intensive care places were currently occupied by coronavirus patients, a proportion that needed to be brought down to "10 to 15 percent at most".
According to the latest official figures, 1,633 people are in intensive care in France compared with a nationwide capacity that can accommodate 5,000. Some 33,000 people have died from coronavirus in France.
Macron also said that France would soon adopt a "new testing strategy", which could include self-testing, and would allow a "drastic" reduction in the wait for a result.
He admitted that the much-heralded French phone app StopCovid "had not worked" and had been downloaded much less than similar apps in France's European neighbours, adding that a new app would be presented later this month.
Earlier Wednesday, the French government re-imposed a national state of health emergency to allow "measures proportional to the health risks to be taken".
France was facing "a health catastrophe", according to the minutes from a cabinet meeting.
The state of health emergency is a legal framework allowing the government to take strict measures to fight the pandemic – such as the nationwide lockdown during the spring – and needed to be renewed after it expired in July.
Follow Macron's interview as it unfolded in our live blog below:
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)