President Emmanuel Macron has ordered France into its third national lockdown and says schools will close for three weeks as he seeks to push back a third COVID-19 wave that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
With a death toll nearing 100,000, intensive care units at breaking point and a slower-than-planned vaccine rollout, Mr Macron has been forced to abandon his goal of keeping the country open to protect the economy.
“We will lose control if we do not move now,” the president said in a televised address on Wednesday (local time).
His announcement means movement restrictions already in place for more than a week in Paris and some northern and southern regions, will apply to the whole country for at least a month from Saturday.
Departing from his pledge to safeguard education, Macron said schools will close after this weekend.
He had bet that if he could steer France out of the pandemic without locking the country down again he would give its economy a chance to recover from last year’s slump.
But the former investment banker’s options narrowed as more contagious virus strains swept much of Europe.
School learning will be done remotely for a week, after which schools go on a two-week holiday, which for most of the country will be earlier than scheduled.
Thereafter, nursery and primary pupils will return while middle and high school pupils continue distance learning for an extra week.
“It is the best solution to slow down the virus,” Mr Macron said, adding that France had succeeded in keeping its schools open for longer during the pandemic than many
Daily infections have doubled since February to average nearly 40,000.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has breached 5000, exceeding the peak hit during a six-week-long lockdown late last year.
Bed capacity in critical care units will be increased to 10,000, Macron said.
The new lockdown will force the temporary closure of 150,000 businesses at a cost of 11 billion euros ($A17 billion) per month.
The set-back for the euro zone’s second-largest economy, may also dampen Europe’s hopes of bouncing back swiftly from the pandemic, the way the US and Chinese economies are.
Mr Macron says France’s vaccine campaign needs to be accelerated.
Mired early in red tape and slowed by supply shortages, it is only now finding its stride three months in, with just 12 per cent of the population inoculated.