French Government Announces Monthlong Lockdown in Paris Area

French President Emmanuel Macron is locking down several regions including the Paris area, slowing down the country’s economic recovery as it struggles to contain a third wave of the coronavirus epidemic.

Only essential businesses and schools will stay open, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday. The measures will start from midnight on Friday and will remain in place for four weeks.

“It’s not good news and I know how tired you are with the succession of restrictions,” Castex said during a press conference. “These measures are vital and balanced. They aim to put the break on the virus without locking us down.”

Like the rest of the country, the French capital has been under a nightly curfew since mid-January with cafes, restaurants, bars and theaters closed in an effort to contain a resurgence of the virus.

But the infection rate has climbed regardless and hospitals are increasingly under strain.

The new restrictions will be imposed in the hardest-hit 16 of France’s 100 departments, including Paris and its surroundings, and parts of the north, and could be extended to others, Castex said. Last month, officials began implementing localized restrictions in Covid-19 hotspots, shuttering first the Alpes-Maritimes region in the south and then the northern city of Dunkirk and on the weekends.

Fatigue

“I’m perfectly aware of the efforts I am asking of you tonight,” Castex said. “But we can’t let this virus continue its course without doing everything to stop it.” He repeated several times the government will stick with measures that are “pragmatic, proportional, and regionalized.”

People will be allowed to exercise outdoors within a 10 km (6.2 miles) radius of their homes, but residents of the areas identified as hardest hit are banned from traveling to other parts of the country without a compelling reason.

Macron was facing a “cruel dilemma” over Paris, as one government official described it -- lock down millions of people for a third time in a year or keep pushing the health care workers already struggling to care for rising numbers of patients.

On Monday, the government was leaning toward keeping the status quo. To relieve the pressure on hospitals, it was hoping that transferring patients and health workers to regions where the virus is less present, cancelling non-Covid surgeries and requisitioning beds in private clinics would help avoid a lockdown.

Economic Hit

But on Wednesday, the head of the body that runs Paris hospitals, Martin Hirsch, said only around 10% of patients were stable enough to be transferred elsewhere and their families were reluctant to have them moved.

Macron has been trying to avoid shuttering the entire country again, insisting that’s a last-resort given the human and financial cost for the economy, which had been performing better than peers in Europe so far this year.

The new restrictions will take 0.2 percentage points off annual economic output, and the monthly cost of compensating furloughed workers and closed businesses will rise to 7.2 billion euros ($8.6 billion) from 6 billion euros previously, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said. The government had previously warned that another national lockdown would jeopardize its forecast for 6% economic growth this year.

The French economy has shown greater resilience to varying government restrictions compared to the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, when activity slumped around 35% below pre-crisis levels. But unemployment will continue to rise, reaching a peak of close to 9.5% at the end of the year, according to Bank of France forecasts.

After the European Medicines Agency said the AstraZeneca Plc shot was safe, France will resume delivering the shots which it’s counting on to help accelerate its vaccination roll-out. It had briefly suspended Astra’s use this week to assess potential side effects, following other European countries.

Castex himself will receive a first dose on Friday.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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