French President Emmanuel Macron has put his country into full lockdown, declaring ‘we are at war with the coronavirus.’
He also announced a suspension of rent, taxes and household bills. The minute details of the lock-down outlined tight controls over residents' civil liberties unprecedented in peacetime. The French will be required to download a form online and fill it out each time they venture outside - writing ‘going out to buy a baguette’ or ‘walking the dog’ - or risk a €38 (£34.60) fine if they are caught short The country's interior minister outlined the finer details after Mr Macron announced the extreme measures in a solemn live TV address on Monday evening.
Mr Macron said earlier people would have to stay at home unless shopping for food or going to a pharmacy, heading for absolutely essential work, or exercising alone. The lock-down measures come in at midday tomorrow and are set to remain in force for at least two weeks, as France follows the lead of other EU nations and shuts its borders amid the global pandemic.
Rent and taxes suspended
Mr Macron announced the lock-down move as he handed a reprieve to French households and businesses set to be hit by the extreme measures. The French leader suspended payment of taxes, rent, social charges, water, electricity, and gas.
In a live television address to the nation, he also pledged that no French company would be exposed to the risk of collapse as he announced billions in euros in loans to help keep businesses afloat. Government grants will be made available to those facing bankruptcy, while tax demands will be frozen.
Borders with other European countries will also be closed, although the French national will be allowed to ‘return home’. Hotels and other private businesses will meanwhile be requisitioned by the state in order to help treat Covid-19 patients.
The measures will start at 12 midday on Tuesday, and go on for ‘at least two weeks’, Mr Macron said. Mr Macron acknowledged the economic cost would be enormous. The country has recorded around 5,400 infections, with 400 still in intensive care in its hospitals, which are struggling to cope. It comes as the death toll hits 127 in France. France had already closed its ski resorts early and had shut major landmarks such as the Louvre Museum in Paris as a precaution against mass gatherings.
Despite measures brought in over the weekend including a ban on crowds of more than 100, and the closure of non-essential shops, people were still breaking the new rules. Mr Macron said his government had taken 'firm decisions' to limit the spread of the virus after an Italian lock-down style approach was recommended to him by the government's science experts.
With today's announcement, France becomes the latest country to follow in the footsteps of coronavirus-ravaged Italy, which is now entering its second week in total lock-down. Eerie scenes of streets deserted in the country usually bustling with locals and tourists have swept the globe, as Italy cracked down on all public gatherings in a bid to drive down a skyrocketing death toll.
How will the restrictions work?
The police and army are set to strictly enforce the new restrictions. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned anyone leaving the house in France ‘for any reason’ will have to download a form or risk a minimum £34.60 fine enforced by 100,000 police and gendarmes. Mr Castaner said ‘essential professions’ who can still enjoy easy travel include medical and postal workers, but few others.
They will instead have to write ‘going out to buy a baguette’ or ‘walking the dog’ on an individually printed form every single time. Mr Castaner said the minimum fine would be €38 (£34.60) and that this would ‘rapidly rise’ to €130 (£118) if it remained unpaid.
The forms will be downloadable online from the website of the French Ministry of the Interior each night during a minimum lockdown of two weeks, starting at midday on Tuesday.