France heads back into lockdown amid surge of Covid-19 cases

Youths gather during a sunny afternoon in Strasbourg eastern France yesterday

The decision comes as a third wave of Covid-19 surges across Europe and countries face a race against time to vaccinate their populations.

"We have a entered a race [between] on the one side the deployment of vaccination [and] on the other the spread in all of Europe of a new form of virus", he said, referring to the variant originating in the United Kingdom, which he called "an epidemic within the epidemic".

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Macron said efforts are needed as "the epidemic is accelerating".

The new restrictions are to cover the whole of mainland France and Corsica for four weeks, with schools and childcare closing, in an attempt to stem a resurgence in coronavirus infections. Macron defended his decision not to lock the country down then, saying people had benefitted from "precious weeks of liberty". School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.

All children will get online teaching next week, Macron said. "We can not remain silent without betraying our Hippocratic oath", they said.

The president said non-essential shops would remain shut, along businesses such as cafes, bars, and restaurants.

But the former investment banker's options narrowed as more contagious strains of the coronavirus swept across France and much of Europe.

In his address, Macron explained that "new data coming through" means that the country must now take further action in response to the spread of the variant.

"44% of people in French intensive care units with COVID are below 65 years of age".

Nurseries and primary and secondary schools will be closed for at least three weeks, Macron said.

The National Council of the Order of Doctorsurged Macron on Wednesday in an open letter published in the Liberation newspaper to impose "a real lockdown wherever necessary".

Professor Philippe Juvin from Paris's European Hospital Georges Pompidou said last week that a strict lockdown may be the only way to prevent a major healthcare crisis.

Container ship stuck in Suez Canal freed after almost a week
The video showed tug boats moving around the Ever Given container ship and voices could be heard shouting in celebration. Hundreds of other vessels remained trapped in the canal waiting to pass, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle.

Juvin told French TV that hospitals risked being overwhelmed to the point where they could neither treat Covid-19 patients nor others.

© Associated Press Medical staff in the ICU unit at the Ambroise Pare clinic in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris.

Daily new infections hit 59,038 on Wednesday, up from around 20,000 in February.

France is now approaching 100,000 coronavirus deaths.

France has been under a nightly curfew since mid-December and in parts of the country, including Paris, the movement of citizens has been restricted and some non-essential stores closed.

Mobility data analysed by Reuters showed those measures were having markedly less impact than prior lockdowns.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has already called for schools to close in Paris, saying that the situation is "disorganised and very serious", with around 20,000 pupils already not in school due to illness or class closures.

Still, a government source said the evacuations under discussion would not require family consent.

He said that the measures announced are "pretty much the pillars of the lockdown of last year".

He insisted that France had made the "right choices" so far, but added that in the past few weeks the vaccine has "accelerated" and "things have changed".

Macron has openly blamed the British variant for the resurgence, after scientists at the Institut Pasteur warned vaccines were coming too slowly to rein it in.

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