EMMANUEL Macron has announced a three-week nationwide school closure and domestic travel ban amid a surge in coronavirus cases in France.
The French President has announced the closure of all schools and childcare centres and a travel ban within the country.
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Speaking in a televised nationwide address this evening, President Macron said measures already introduced in some regions of France will be extended across the country, including a 7pm curfew.
This brings the whole country in line with cities like Paris, which have had a limited lockdown imposed for the past two weeks.
People are also asked to work from home where they can and non-essential shops will be closed, with the measures lasting for four weeks.
Saying the education of children is "non-negotiable", the French president announced daycare centres, primary schools, middle schools and high schools will shut for just three weeks.
They will move to remote learning from next week, before breaking up for the Easter holidays on 12 April for two weeks.
University students will be able to attend classes in person for one day per week.
"The epidemic is accelerating, and we are likely to lose control, so we must find a new way of reacting," said Macron.
"We must therefore set ourselves a new framework for the coming months.
"With regards to schools, we’ve all got to be aware of our responsibilities as far as our youth are concerned.
"We’ve kept them open since September 2020, but this will now change."
The president said non-essential shops would remain shut, along businesses such as cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Mr Macron said the so-called ‘British variant’ of Coronavirus was causing particular concerns in France.
"We are faced with a new situation," he said.
"We are involved in a race. Propagation of a new variant that was identified by our British neighbours’ must be dealt with."
Researchers in France have found a new Covid variant with mutations that could be more resistant to the vaccine and more easily transmissible.
The nationwide move is a departure from the government's policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalised restrictions.
School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.
A debate is scheduled in parliament tomorrow that will address the virus situation and the new measures.
“The key factor in our decision-making remains the situation in hospitals”, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said today after Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting.
“After Paris hospital officials warned they would have to start refusing needy patients for lack of space”, he said, “One thing is clear: France will not refuse care for any sick patients. Choosing patients is not an option.”
“Whatever path is chosen”, he warned, “we have difficult weeks ahead of us.”
Previous nationwide lockdowns in March and October last year were announced by Macron in televised speeches.
The French leader addressed the nation at 8pm local time as the country anxiously awaited the news.
An overnight nationwide curfew has been in place since January, and all France's restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October.
In Paris and other regions where the virus is spreading rapidly, residents already have extra restrictions on movement and nonessential stores are closed.
France is now routinely seeing 40,000 new coronavirus cases a day.
The total number of Covid patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 yesterday – the highest ICU figure for 11 months.
Earlier this month, Macron refused to apologise for his country’s disastrous virus strategy.
He said: "I can tell you that I have no mea culpa to offer, no remorse, no acknowledgement of failure."
Adding to the country's battle against the disease is that France is well behind the UK on its vaccine rollout following a series of U-turns on the AstraZeneca jab.
Macron initially claimed the remedy was not suitable for those aged over 65 before announcing it shouldn't be given to those under 55 – and then later reintroducing it.
The jab has been backed by Europe's regulatory agency, as well as the World Health Organisation.
Meanwhile, reports in France claim Macron doesn't bother listening to experts on Covid any more – despite soaring cases.
Sources say Macron believes he's such an expert in the spread of coronavirus that he "no longer follows the advice of scientists".
And the president has been blasted in newspaper Le Monde – as France's crisis continues to spiral out of control.
The paper says Macron has flouted the advice of his experts for almost a year after he announced the reopening of schools in advance of scientific advice.
Germany and France were last night slammed for flirting with Vladimir Putin over the Sputnik V vaccine after trashing the AZ jab.
Critics warned they risk handing the Kremlin a major PR victory at a time when it is increasing its aggression towards the EU.
Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius said Moscow was using the shot as "a well-directed PR stunt" and urged the bloc to reject it.
He told The Sun: "Russia is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to portray itself as a global power with a so-called strong humanitarian policy line.
"Its intentions are openly hidden in the name of Sputnik V, which if translated, means ‘a satellite’ or a satellite in the orbit of Russia.
"We should not be fooled by Russia’s attempts to present itself as a partner to the West in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic."
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