France will enter a new month-long national lockdown from midnight on Thursday to apply a “brutal brake” on coronavirus infections, president Emmanuel Macron has announced.
In a televised speech on Wednesday evening, Macron called for a “collective effort” to combat Covid-19, admitting recent efforts to contain the virus were “useful, but not enough”.
“Difficult measures have to be taken,” the president said.
“We have always said we have to live with the virus ... We have done all we can do and I believe our strategy and information has been good,” he said. “But we have to admit, like our [European] neighbours, we are submerged by the acceleration of the spread of the virus. All of Europe is surprised by the speed of the spread of the virus.
“We are overwhelmed by a second wave that is set to be harder and more deadly than the first.”
Macron said that if the virus continued at the current rate, all of France’s intensive care beds would be filled with Covid-19 cases by mid-November, causing the cancellation of other essential and sometimes life-saving operations.
Watch: Macron Puts France in New Nationwide Lockdown
He recognised that another lockdown – following the strict two-month confinement in March and April – would hit the French economy, adding: “The health system won’t hold unless there is an economy to support it, but nothing is more important than human life.
“We could do nothing and adopt the idea of herd immunity ... in the short term this would mean patients being triaged and possibly 400,000 deaths.”
Macron said the aim of the new restrictions was to reduce new infections from the current 40-50,000 a day to a treatable 5,000 a day.
The new lockdown will see the return of sworn declarations needed to leave home, but schools will remain open. Universities will give courses online. All non-essential businesses, including bars and restaurants, will be closed from midnight on Thursday.
Private gatherings are banned, though there will be time given for people to return home from the All Saints’ Day holiday this weekend. Public services will remain open.
The prime minister, Jean Castex, will give details of the new rules on Thursday.
Large swathes of France, including Paris, have been placed under a night-time curfew, but officials say this has not been enough to stop the virus.
The new restrictions are aimed at halting a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections in France over the last week. Tuesday’s figures from Santé Publique France, the public health authority, reported 33,417 new confirmed Covid-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, down from the record 52,010 reported on Saturday.
The number of patients in intensive care with coronavirus rose by 148 to 2,918 and there were an additional 288 deaths attributed to the virus in the previous 24 hours. There were an additional 235 deaths in France’s care and nursing homes in the previous week.
On Monday, the president of France’s scientific committee advising the government, Jean-François Delfraissy, told RTL radio he believed the number of new Covid-19 cases could be as high as 100,000 and that his committee was surprised at the “brutality” of the second wave.
“We are in a difficult, even critical, situation. We foresaw a second wave but we are surprised ourselves by the brutality of what has happened over the last 10 days. The second wave will probably be worse than the first,” Delfraissy said.
He added: “Many people still haven’t realised what is waiting for us. This wave is invading Europe … it will last several weeks, even one or two months.”
Watch: French restaurants brace for economic impact of Covid-19 curfew