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As France reports 21 new deaths, President Macron announces lockdown

by AFP

The total number of cases in France rose to 1,210

 A cashier wearing protective gloves and a welder helmet scans customers’ groceries at a hypermarket in Illiers-Combray, north-west of France. AFP Photo

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.

He said this meant meeting friends outside or family gatherings would “no longer be allowed” and warned that any violation of the new regime would be “punished”.

Only “necessary movements” will be allowed, like going shopping, seeking medical help, or working when homeworking was not possible.

Macron 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 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 behavior 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 totaling 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 underway will be suspended, starting with the pensions overhaul.”

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