France Toughens Containment Measures as Fresh Outbreaks Emerge
(Bloomberg) -- French authorities are demanding tougher enforcement of rules to stem the spread of coronavirus, including the use of masks, as the nation battles a rising number of cases.
With some regions nearing alert levels, the government is pushing local authorities to keep enforcing containment measures. Paris and Marseilles have already made masks obligatory in some streets and the government is encouraging labor unions to press for tougher rules within companies. The marathon due to take in the French capital in November was canceled this week.
A further acceleration in cases could strangle an economic recovery by obliging the government to put regions back into lockdown. The nation is already contending with the impact of earlier lockdowns, which inflicted the worst economic slump on record and a crisis in the labor market. Rising case numbers would also hammer tourism in what would normally be its peak season, with the U.K. warning it could reinstate travel restrictions.
“The only thing that threatens the gradual but real economic recovery in France is the return of the epidemic,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday at an event on the border with Spain. “We must be very careful to respect the rules on vigilance, social distancing and mask wearing, which will allow us to live with the epidemic while continuing with the economic recovery of our country.”
The situation is becoming more challenging, with millions of people on the move around the country for the holiday season. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said earlier this week that infection is increasing, particularly among young people, and warned that police will crack down on those not following existing rules.
“I’m seeing less vigilance, less discipline, less solidarity, in any case among a minority that is nevertheless too large,” Castex said during a visit to a hospital in the southern French city of Montpellier on Tuesday.
While confirmed infections have been rising, the number of deaths has remained relatively under control. French business groups have cautioned against toughening rules within companies, calling instead for a balance between controlling the pandemic and protecting the economy.
“There are serious questions about the possible strengthening of existing measures,” France’s small business federation CPME said Wednesday. “Obliging masks to be worn systematically and in all circumstances in all businesses seems excessive at present.”
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