France to close schools, ban domestic travel as virus surges

PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a month-long domestic travel ban, as the rapid spread of the virus ramped up pressure on hospitals.

In a televised address to the nation, Macron said new efforts are needed as “the epidemic is accelerating”.

It’s a departure from the government’s policy in recent months, which has focussed on regionalised restrictions. School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.

“We’re going to close nursery, elementary and high schools for three weeks,” Macron said, adding that a nationwide 7pm-6am curfew will be kept in place.

Macron said restrictions already applying in the Paris region and elsewhere will be extended next week to the whole country, for at least one month.

Medical workers bring an emergency arrival on the rooftop of the Amiens Picardie hospital in Amiens, north of Paris. PHOTO: AP

Under these restrictions, people are allowed to go outside for leisure, but within a 10-kilometre radius from their homes – and without socialising.

Also, most non-essential shops are closed down.

In addition, Macron promised to speed up the vaccination campaign by giving access to all people aged 60 and over in mid-April, those aged 50 and over in mid-May and the rest of the population a month later. So far, France has prioritised people living in nursing homes and those aged 70 and over, as well as health care workers and people with serious health conditions.

“If we stay united in the coming weeks … then we will see light at the end of the tunnel,” Macron said.

He said the school closures aimed at avoiding major disruption by bringing forward the date of scheduled Easter holidays. All children will get online teaching next week, Macron said. Then they will go on vacation for two weeks.

Macron reaffirmed his views against a prolonged closure of schools as “increasing social inequalities.”

According to figures reported by the United Nations education agency UNESCO, to date, France has closed schools for 10 weeks in total since the start of the pandemic.