By Agence France-Presse
French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday ordered people to stay at home to avoid spreading the new coronavirus, saying only necessary trips would be allowed and violations would be punished.
Macron’s orders came as France’s national health agency announced 21 more coronavirus deaths and 1,210 new cases of infection in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of fatalities to 148.
In the 20-minute address to the nation, he said the French had to “severely restrict movements for the next 15 days at least” and limit social contacts as much as possible.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner later said anyone outside would have to provide proof of their reasons for travelling and 100,000 law enforcement officers would be enforcing the measures.
Anyone who does not observe the confinement, Castaner added, could be fined 135 euros ($150).
Macron said under the new regime gatherings among friends and family would no longer be allowed, only “necessary movements” like shopping, medical visits or working when tele-commuting was not possible.
In addition, he said the European Union would close all external borders for 30 days from Tuesday to curb the outbreak, though citizens of EU countries would be allowed to return.
And on the domestic front, the second round of municipal elections set for this weekend has been postponed to June 21 after the first round of voting Sunday was marred by record no-shows.
Given the urgency of the crisis, Macron also said he would ask parliament on Thursday to approve a law granting his cabinet the power to govern by decree, “only in areas required to manage this crisis”.
– ‘As if life had not changed’ –
France had already announced stringent new measures to close bars, restaurants and cinemas, which came after the closure of schools and a ban on large gatherings.
Macron said the new measures were needed after people flocked outside in defiance of warnings over the weekend.
“Even while medics were warning about the gravity of the situation, we saw people get together in the parks, busy markets and restaurants and bars that did not respect the order to close,” Macron said.
“As if life had not changed,” he said, warning such behaviour put the lives of others in danger.
With concern growing over the economy, Macron also vowed that “no company would be abandoned to the risk of bankruptcy” because of the draconian measures that have seen businesses shut and factories forced to idle factories.
“Those facing difficulties will not have to spend any money, not for taxes or social charges,” Macron said. He also indicated that rents and utility bills could be suspended for small and medium-sized companies in distress.
France will also ensure that all bank loans to companies are backed by a state guarantee totalling 300 billion euros ($340 billion), he said.
He also suspended the application of his signature reform of the country’s pension system, which had prompted France’s longest transport strike in decades over the Christmas holidays.
“Because we are at war, the entire focus of the government and parliament must be on fighting this epidemic,” he said.
“That is why I have decided that all reforms under way will be suspended, starting with the pensions overhaul.”