France goes into national lockdown, schools shutdown as covid-19 third wave swings in

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PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 16: French President Emmanuel Macron wearing a protective face mask listens to Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa during a joint statement prior to their meeting at the Elysee Presidential Palace on December 16, 2020 in Paris, France. In January 2021, Portugal will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Portugal will assume the six-month rotating EU Council presidency on 1 January 2021, being the fourth time that Lisbon held the role since joining the then European Economic Community in 1986. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday ordered France into its third national lockdown and said schools would close for three weeks as he sought to push back a third wave of COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

With the death toll nearing 100,000, intensive care units in the hardest-hit regions at breaking point and a slower-than-planned vaccine rollout, Macron was forced to abandon his goal of keeping the country open to protect the economy.

“We will lose control if we do not move now,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.

His announcement means that movement restrictions already in place for more than a week in Paris, and some northern and southern regions, will now apply to the whole country for at least a month, from Saturday.

Departing from his pledge to safeguard education from the pandemic, Macron said schools will close for three weeks after this weekend.

Macron, 43, had sought to avoid a third large-scale lockdown since the start of the year, betting that if he could steer France out of the pandemic without locking the country down again he would give the economy a chance to recover from last year’s slump.

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

For school-children after this weekend, learning will be done remotely for a week, after which schools go on a two-week holiday, which for most of the country will be earlier than scheduled.

Thereafter, nursery and primary pupils will return to school while middle and high school pupils continue distance learning for an extra week.

“It is the best solution to slow down the virus,” Macron said, adding that France had succeeded in keeping its schools open for longer during the pandemic than many neighbours.

REUTERS