On Wednesday evening, Macron announced that the limited lockdown in place in 19 départements would be extended to the whole country in a bid to halt the spiralling Covid-19 rates.
Schools, which remained open during the second wave in the autumn, would close for a three-week period, with a fourth week of distance-learning for secondary and high schools.
“The education of our children is nonnegotiable,” Macron said. But, he added: “we must slow down the virus.”
Full details on school closures and the help parents are entitled to HERE.
How are people in France reacting?
The measures were met with a mixture of resignation and anger, despite Macron’s suggestion that France could begin envisioning a return to normal life by mid-May.
“Lockdown, the sequel… and the end?” Le Figaro headlined its front page Thursday, while Le Parisien newspaper said Macron was defending his strategy of “slowing without shutting down” even though “the situation has never been so dangerous or complicated.”
As during the first lockdown last spring, parents are scrambling to make arrangements for another round of distance learning.
“It was absolutely necessary to close the schools, even if it will be complicated for parents, and especially young children, to manage this situation,” Laure, 44, a researcher with two young boys who lives in Paris, said after Macron’s TV address.
So… Enough ? Too much? Too late?
Fairly strict but nothing like the first lockdown a year ago. Essentially another gamble but it may work.
— John Lichfield (@john_lichfield) March 31, 2021
Will the new measures be enough?
Antoine Flahault, an epidemiologist and Director of the Geneva Institute for Global Health, told The Local:
“It was important to take strong measures quickly in France.
Flahault, who has long called on the French government to close down schools, said the new measures “should make it possible to regain control over the epidemic,” because they were nationwide and included school closures.
“It’s impossible to say if this will be sufficient or not,” Pascal Crépey, an epidemiologist and professor at the Rennes School of Higher Public Health Studies (EHESP), told The Local.
Because the partial lockdown had only been in place since March 19th, in 16 of the 19 départements concerned and one week in the three remaining ones, the impact of the reinforced measures had yet to manifest, Crépey explained.
But “the message is stronger than before,” he added.
That Macron himself was the one making the announcement “adds some weight” to the importance of the message, Crépey said.
“It shows that, in the end, he will be held responsible for handling the crisis.”
“There is one thing we know: whatever measures are taken, if it’s are not accepted and understood by the population, it won’t be efficient.”
Crépey belongs to the part of the scientific community who have argued for keeping schools open, because “schools are not an amplifier of the epidemic, simply because children transmit the virus less and are less susceptible to infection.”
However, he said closing schools would enhance the overall impact of the current lockdown compared to the partial one in place since mid March, because it would lead to more parents staying home from work in order to take care of their children.
“The objective remains the same: reducing our contacts with friends, family and colleagues,” he said.
Should Macron have declared a strict lockdown?
Apart from the school closures, the big difference between the current lockdown and the previous ones is that people can move around more or less freely.
While banning inter-regional travel, the government scrapped the attestation (permission slip) for outings of less than 10 kilometres from the home.
Hospital chiefs in France have long asked for tougher measures, as they struggle to cope with the pressure of new Covid patients that fill up their intensive care wards.
“We are in a situation at the brink of disaster,” Frédéric Adnet, head of the emergency department of the Avicenne hospital in the Parisian suburb Seine-Saint-Denis, France’s hardest hit département, told Le Parisien.
But epidemiologist Crépey said a strict, stay-at-home lockdown limiting outdoor activities “wouldn’t have made any sense from a scientific point of view.”
“We’re not where we were in 2020. We know that the virus spreads mostly indoors,” he said. “So it makes sense to allow people go outside.”
Will the government have to extend the measures?
In March 2020, the lockdown was supposed to last two weeks. It lasted two months.
Director of the Geneva Institute for Global Health Antoine Flahault said the government may have to consider prolonging the school closures, “if the trend proves to be favourable.”
“Three weeks of school closures will not be enough to bring the new infections down to less than 5,000 per day,” Flahault said.
Back in autumn, reaching and maintaining 5,000 new Covid positives per day was the goal Macron set to allow for a gradual reopening of the country.
This time, he mentioned no such goal, although he did say he envisaged beginning to reopen closed sectors “in mid May.”
“There will still be time to prolong the measures to arrive at a minimal circulation of the virus, putting the country out of danger long term,” Flahault said.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said the number of new Covid cases could peak in the next seven to ten days, while intensive care cases in hospitals might top out by the end of April.
“The goal is to suppress this wave of the epidemic… so that it’s as small as possible,” he told France Inter radio.