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.
Borders with other European countries will also be closed, although 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.
He told the nation: “Walking, meeting friends in the park or in the street will no longer be possible.
“It is a question of limiting as much as possible all contact beyond the home. All over French territory, in mainland France as well as overseas, only necessary journeys must remain necessary.”
Mr Macron acknowledged the economic cost would be enormous.
He added: “All businesses must organise to facilitate remote work. And when that is not possible, they will have to adapt their organization to enforce these new measures.”
Government grants will be made available to those facing bankruptcy, while tax demands will be frozen.
It comes as the death toll hits 127 in France.
The country has recorded around 5,400 infections, with 400 still in intensive care in its hospitals, which are struggling to cope.
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: “We are at war and the Nation will support its children who, there, medical staff in town, at the hospital, are on the front line in a fight that will ask them for determination, solidarity.
“They have rights over us. We obviously owe them the means, the protection. We will be there. We owe them masks, gel, all the necessary equipment, and we will make sure of it.
“We also owe caregivers custody of their children. A minimum daycare service has been in place since that day in nurseries and schools. We also owe them serenity, movement and rest.
“This is why I decided that from taxis and hotels can be mobilised for their benefit. The state will pay.
“I therefore decided that a field hospital of the army service would be deployed in the days to come in Alsace (the eastern region close to Germany). The army will also help to move the sick from the most affected regions and thus reduce congestion in hospitals.”
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 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 individual printed form every single time.
“We can always practice a physical activity or take our dog out, but everyone should do it sparingly, without meeting in a group,” Mr Castaner said.
“We can get some fresh air yes, but certainly not play a football match. A control system will be set up by 100,000 police and gendarmes,” he added.
Mr Castaner said the minum 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.
“It will be up to everyone to fill it out to specify the nature of their trip,” said Mr Castaner. “Those who have business cards will be invited to present them.”
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