President Emmanuel Macron said the country was effectively “at war” as he announced a 15-day lockdown beginning on midday on Tuesday.
“Never before in history has France had to take such exceptional measures in a time of peace,” Macron said. ”You will no longer be able to see your loved ones ... or continue your daily routine.”
Fixed checkpoints will be set up across the country and fines of up to €135 will be handed to anyone flouting the toughened restrictions, according to interior minister Christophe Castaner.
Only trips to supermarkets, pharmacies and places of work will be allowed and all workers have been told to work from home where possible. Similar nationwide measures are already in place in Italy.
It was Macron’s second public address in recent days, having announced school and university closures in a similar televised appearance last Thursday. On Saturday, prime minister Edouard Philippe announced that all “non-essential” public places were to close, including shops, restaurants and cafes.
France has seen around 5,500 cases and 127 deaths, making it the seventh worst affected country. The majority of cases remain active, meaning the death toll is likely to rise over the coming days.
Earlier on Monday, the country’s top health official warned that the situation is “deteriorating very fast” and that there is a severe risk that hospitals will be overwhelmed.
“The number of cases doubles every three days. I want our citizens to realise that there are hundreds of people who are sick and in intensive care,” he said.
“This is why we must do everything to slow down the outbreak.”
Supermarkets and pharmacies are already facing shortages, with long lines and empty shelves a common sight across the capital in anticipation of Macron’s announcement.
Macron condemned people for not following the government’s previous guidelines and said that anyone flouting the new regulations would be punished.
“We’re not up against another army or another nation. But the enemy is right there: invisible, elusive, but it is making progress,” he said. “We are at war.”
Europe is now the "epicentre" of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation, with more cases now reported each day on the continent than China at the height of its epidemic.
On Tuesday, the 27 EU member states will vote on a proposal to ban the entry of all non-essential foreign nationals for a minimum of 30 days in an attempt to halt the spread of the illness.
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