France announces three-week school closures and travel ban as coronavirus cases spike

French president Emmanuel Macron has announced a three-week nationwide school closure and a month-long domestic travel ban as cases rise.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the fresh lockdown on March 31.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced the fresh lockdown on March 31.

In a televised address to the nation, Mr Macron said efforts are needed as "the epidemic is accelerating".

"We're going to close nursery, elementary and high schools for three weeks," he said, adding that a nationwide 7pm-6am curfew will be kept in place.

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Mr Macron said that restrictions currently applied in Paris and other parts of north and eastern France will now be extended to the rest of the country for at least a month.

These restrictions involve people only being permitted to travel for leisure within a 10-kilometre radius. Most essential shops will close.

The move is a departure from the government's policy in recent months, which has focused on regionalised restrictions.

A debate on Thursday in the French parliament will address the new measures.

"The key factor in our decision-making remains the situation in hospitals," government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday after Mr Macron hosted his weekly coronavirus strategy meeting and a Cabinet meeting.

After Paris hospital officials warned they would have to start refusing needy patients for lack of space, he said, "One thing is clear: France will not refuse care for any sick patients. Choosing patients is not an option."

Previous nationwide lockdowns in March and October 2020 were announced by Mr Macron in televised speeches.

The total number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care in France surged past 5,000 on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months that the figure has been that high.

The renewed surge of infections has led to growing questions about Mr Macron's virus strategies.

With presidential elections scheduled for 2022, Mr Macron is having to weigh both political and health considerations.

An overnight nationwide curfew has been in place since January, and all France's restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October.

Additional reporting by PA.