Last night out in France as 20 million face virus curfew

Paris, France Published: Oct 16, 2020, 10:46 PM(IST)

Coronavirus in France (file photo) Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The curfew aims to keep some 20 million people home from 9 pm to 6 am -- 30 percent of the French population.

Millions of French people were looking forward to a last night of freedom on Friday before a Covid-19 curfew in Paris and other large cities comes into force for a least a month, prompted by an alarming surge in new cases.

The curfew aims to keep some 20 million people home from 9 pm to 6 am -- 30 percent of the French population.

It was ordered by President Emmanuel Macron this week as the number of new infections and deaths raised the spectre of hospital overloads like those seen in March and April.

Health authorities reported Thursday a record 30,621 new cases in the previous 24 hours as well as 88 deaths and over 200 new Covid admissions to intensive care units.

On Friday the Sante Public public health authority said people between 15 and 44 were the hardest-hit age group.

- 'Never seen anything like it' -

But new infections were rising most rapidly among older citizens, with confirmed cases up by around two-thirds over the past six weeks, Sophie Vaux, an epidemiologist at the agency, told reporters.

The situation in retirement homes had again become "very worrying", Sante Public said.

The ARS health authority for the southeastern Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, which includes Grenoble, Lyon and Saint-Etienne, on Friday asked hospitals to cancel all non-urgent surgery to safeguard intensive care capacity for future Covid cases. 

While the curfew has broad public support -- a Harris Interactive poll after Macron's announcement found 70 percent approval -- officials in several cities worried about the heavy social and economic costs of a measure set to last four weeks, or possibly six if the health situation fails to improve.

The new nighttime restrictions come into force at midnight on Friday (2200 GMT) in the capital and eight other major regional cities.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pressing the government to ease the rules for theatres, cinemas and other cultural venues so that patrons can return home later.

- 'Loss of daily pleasures' -

Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot backed the idea, but Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire poured cold water on any special treatment for live shows.

"If we start allowing multiple exceptions," he told French TV, "we're not going to make it".

Prime Minister Jean Castex added Friday: "The rules must apply to everyone".

Restaurant owners have complained bitterly about a measure they say makes little sense given the strict social distancing rules they have already applied.

"I've never seen anything like this in the 50 years I've been here," said Stain Roman, manager of La Mere Buonavista restaurant in Marseille, another city facing the curfew.

Marseille's mayor Michele Rubirola said residents were paying the price "through the loss of their daily pleasures, their freedom, or through economic hardship".

People will need a signed certificate or an electronic version downloaded to a phone for activities allowed during the curfew, such as walking their dog, or risk a fine of 135 euros ($160) just like during the two-month lockdown earlier this year.

Repeat offenders could face fines of up to 3,750 euros. 

- No travel restrictions -

The curfew measure, which comes just ahead of a two-week school holiday, contains no travel restrictions, raising the prospect that huge numbers of families will flee cities for the country.

That prompted officials in Le Touquet, a popular resort town on the English Channel, to impose its own curfew, with bars and restaurants ordered to close at 11:30 pm.

Nationwide, wedding celebrations and other parties in public venues as well as student parties have been outlawed, and people are being urged to limit gatherings in private homes to six people.

"We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus," Macron said Wednesday when he also put the country back under a health state of emergency starting Saturday.

The move notably requires all restaurants to ask clients for their contact details.

By the end of the month, airports will also be able to carry out rapid-result Covid antigen tests for passengers, transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told CNews television.

Public broadcaster France Television said it would do its bit to help people through the curfew by adding a feature film every night to its usual programming, mostly during prime time. 

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