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HEALTH

Macron orders nighttime curfew for parts of France hardest hit by Covid-19

French president Emmanuel Macron announced on Wednesday a nighttime curfew would be imposed in the greater Paris region as well as in eight other cities around France hard-hit by the second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Macron orders nighttime curfew for parts of France hardest hit by Covid-19
French President Emmanuel Macron making his live TV broadcast. Photo: AFP

As virus numbers continue to rise in France, the president announced that nine cities and surrounding areas will be subject for a curfew from 9pm to 6am for at least four weeks.

Macron said the government would try to extend the curfew until December 1st.

The curfew order begins at midnight on Friday night into Saturday morning and affects the greater Paris region of Île-de-France as well as the metropolitan areas of Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Aix-Marseille, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, Montpellier and Toulouse.

All these cities as well as Paris and its surrounding suburbs have been on “maximum alert” due to the rising number of coronavirus cases and the subsequent pressure on hospitals and intensive care units.

MAP Which parts of France are on the highest Covid-19 alert levels?

Macron called the curfew an “appropriate” measure, adding that the government did want to re-impose a second complete lockdown on the country, which he said was “disproportionate”.

'We won't be partying with friends'

“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” Macron said, adding the measure would stop people visiting restaurants and private homes late at night.

Anyone caught breaching the curfew in the nine areas risked a fine of €135, Macron said, and for repeat offenders this could rise to €1,500.

“We won't be leaving the restaurant after 9pm,” Macron said. “We won't be partying with friends because we know that that's where the infection risk is greatest.”

Within curfew areas public transport will continue to run as normal to allow people to go to and from work.

“We must break the spread of the virus to protect others, to protect the elderly and the most vulnerable and to protect the health service and health workers,” the president said. 

He accepted that restaurants would be forced to close but said the government would ensure they and the staff received financial aid to help them through the crisis.

Macron's appearance followed the announcement by the government that the “state of health emergency” would be reintroduced from Saturday.

The official designation allows the government to impose far-reaching restrictions without the need to go through parliament. The country was in a “state of health emergency” from March, but it was allowed to lapse in July because of the improving health situation.

READ ALSO What does a State of Health Emergency mean in France?

It was the first time the president had spoken at such length about the health situation in the county since July 14th, prompted by weeks of spiking Covid-19 rates that for the first time since March has threatened to overwhelm hospitals in hotspots such as Paris and Marseille.

“It's inevitable,” Hirsch said, and called for stricter measures to reverse the trend.

 
Macron said new daily coronavirus cases must be brought down to “3,000 or 5,000”, from current levels, which have reached up to almost 27,000. 
 
But he also ruled out several more strict measures, at least for the moment.
 
He said reintroducing a full lockdown would be “disproportionate” while insisting that France “has not lost control” of the situation.
 
He also ruled out introducing any kind of travel ban within France or restrictions on moving between regions. The French “Toussaint” (All Saints) autumn school holiday begins on Saturday, and Macron said that when it came to holidays or visiting family, people should use common sense and stick to health protocols.
 
He added that he did not want to “infantalise” the French people.
 
'No more than six at the table'
 
The president also once again urged the French public to reduce the number of people they have contact with and for the first time suggested that people should not exceed groups of six in private settings such as homes.
 
Macron called it a “rule of six”, echoing the law in place in the UK, but rather than being a law Macron's announcing was simply a firm recommendation to the public, all around France, not just in those areas on maximum alert.
 

 
 
He told interviewers: “When we invite friends to the house we shouldn't be more than six round the table” but stopped short of introducing laws on socialising or introducing “social bubbles”.
 
On the subject of working from home, he reiterated that it was recommended, but did not bring in rules forcing either businesses or employees to follow the guidelines, pointing out that for some people – those living in small homes with young children for example – working from home is very difficult.
 
“We are going to have to deal with this virus until at least the summer of 2021,” Macron said, saying “all scientists” were in agreement on that point.
 
 
 
 

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

You might not have thought about it too much as you enjoyed an extra day off work, but it is perhaps unexpected that France - proudly secular since 1905 - has so many public holidays based around Catholic festivals.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Reader question: Why does France have Catholic holidays like Ascension, Assumption and Toussaints? I thought it was supposed to be a secular republic?

The French Republic is very proud of its secular principles but yet as some readers observed, many public holidays are linked to Catholic celebrations, a reminder of its religious history.

Roughly half of the public holidays in France represent Catholic events: Easter, Ascension (May 26th), Assumption (August 15th), Pentecost (for some people), All Saints’ day (November 1st) and of course Christmas.

If you live in Alsace-Moselle (formerly Alsace-Lorraine) you get two extra holidays, both religious ones – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) – more on why that is later.

France’s secular stance takes its roots in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but was formally codified into law in 1905. 

France does not recognise, pay or subsidise any religion. So French local and national governments are not allowed to finance churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, and religious symbolism is not allowed in State buildings or for representatives of the State.

It is these rules that mean that, for example, French primary schools don’t perform nativity plays at Christmas and French female police officers are not permitted to wear the Muslim headscarf while on duty.

EXPLAINED What does France’s secularism really mean?

The flip side of this is that freedom of worship is also protected in the 1905 law, and everyone is allowed to practice whatever religion they choose in their private life.

The only exception to the secular rules are the three departments of Alsace-Moselle. When the 1905 law was passed the region was part of Germany and only became French again at the end of World War I. As part of the compromise agreed, today bishops, priests, rabbis and pastors have the status of civil servants and the state pays for the maintenance of religious buildings. Religious education in public schools is also preserved.

So all that seems to pretty strongly suggest that Catholic festivals should play no part in France’s holiday calendar and only the secular events – such as the Fête nationale on July 14th or VE Day on May 8th – should remain.

However, by the time secularism was formally codified into law in 1905 there was already a fairly fixed calendar of holidays and festivals – although this had already been slimmed down under the Napoleonic government in 1802 – and suddenly axing popular festivals was likely to go down pretty badly with the population at large.

Essentially then, this was a pragmatic compromise between tradition and secularism and over the years politicians have been understandably reluctant to tell the French they must lose their holidays.

But it’s noticeable that all the religious festivals in the calendar are Christian ones, and while this may reflect France’s history it’s not so representative of the current demographics, where an estimated 10 percent of the population either practice the Muslim faith or have a Muslim family background.

So could we see a scenario when we knock Ascension on the head but make Eid a public holiday?

It’s theoretically possible – in 2015 the French parliament voted through an amendment that would allow the départments of France’s Overseas Territories (Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion and French Guiana) to switch a Catholic bank holiday for another religious celebration to suit different faiths in the local population.

However none of the overseas départements has yet made that move. 

A fresh amendment would be required to make the same move in mainland France, and there appears to be little political appetite for that at present.

What are France’s public holidays? 

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Monday, only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
  • Easter Monday (movable date)
  • May 1st: May Day
  • May 8th: VE Day
  • May 26th: Ascension Day
  • Pentecost (movable date and no longer an official holiday)
  • July 14th – Bastille Day
  • August 15th – Assumption
  • November 1st – All Saints
  • November 11th – Armistice Day
  • December 25th – Christmas
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
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