With millions locked down across France during the COVID-19 pandemic, overstretched police are struggling to ensure people stay indoors, especially with spring approaching.
Authorities are increasingly turning to drones to patrol streets, parks, and riverbanks, and manufacturers are more than happy to meet the demand.
Authorities struggle at times to convince people to curb their instincts and spend less time outside, especially when the weather is good.
The order “stay home! You cannot stay in this area,” barked from the sky elicits an image of Big Brother that civil libertarians have warned of for some time.
In February, a video that went viral on social media showed an astonished Chinese woman being lectured to by a drone.
“Yes grandmother, it is the drone that is speaking to you. You should not go out without a mask. You had better go back home, and don’t forget to wash your hands,” the policeman who was controlling the device told her.
European police have picked up on the idea and want to use “fear of the cops” to support restrictions in Belgium, France and Spain.
The technique is being used even outside urban areas, where people are inclined to feel they run less risk of crossing paths with someone carrying COVID-19.
“A message from a drone catches your attention and avoids police having to meet the person face to face,” notes Stephane Morelli, co-founder of Azur Drones which has developed a “quasi-autonomous” system of airborne surveillance.
He told AFP that China has also tested drones equipped with infrared sensors that take people’s temperatures in the street or on their balconies.
Since streets are almost empty and other aircraft are few and far between, the conditions for using drones are almost ideal, he said.
But once we become used to such surveillance, and possibly employ countermeasures like hats and masks, will it still be effective?
“I see it mainly as a way to raise awareness, and then as a means of control,” said Bastien Laurent, head of a national federation of professional civil drone operators.
Unlike China, France does not now allow drones to be used for facial recognition, though they are capable of doing so from several hundred meters (yards) away.
But since rules on moving about have been widely reported by the media, “you don’t necessarily have to identify someone” because the drone can “spread the word” or direct a police patrol to the person in question, Laurent told AFP.
“The idea is not yet to use a drone for fines. I do not think France is ready for that sort of thing,” added Alexandre Thomas, founder of Flying Eye, which sells and rents drones to security services.
“Since Friday, I am getting calls every two hours to order material,” he told AFP.
Authorities in Paris have a contract with the company and now own and use around 20 of its drones for various purposes.
“Drones are no longer exotic, they are indispensable tools already being used to keep an eye on demonstrations,” Thomas noted.
He added that “there is also strong demand from prisons, in case of riots to inform intervention teams on the ground.”
His company was asked about the possibility of adapting drones “to do aerial spraying of disinfectants” to fight the pandemic that has killed almost 22,000 people worldwide.
Images from China showing such use also recall scenarios from a science fiction movie.
In France, “we are only in the development phase, that is something foreseen for when the confinement period is over,” Thomas believes.
The French government is also under pressure from doctors’ unions to impose a total nationwide curfew, with some cities, including Nice and Perpignan, already banning people from going out.
With authorities expected to extend the lockdown beyond the end of March, doctors want it tightened to “at a minimum” stopping people going out to jog or exercise.
Parliament toughened fines for people who break the current confinement measures late Saturday. Repeat offenders now face six months in prison and a fine of 3,700 euros ($3,950).
– Shortage of masks –
Dr Razafindranazy died on Saturday in a hospital in the northern city of Lille, with his son paying an emotional tribute to him on Facebook.
“He was passionate about his work and chose not to retire. He has left a family behind him who will never forget him,” he added.
The family also warned that “this illness is extremely serious and must not be taken lightly”.
Marini said Dr Razafindranazy “would soon have been 68” and had treated some of the first cases in the Oise department, the first area in France to be badly hit by COVID-19.
He was infected in early March, the mayor added.
A quarter of the more than 7,200 people now in hospital with the virus are in intensive care.
Veran said many medical staff who contract the virus could in fact be getting infected outside of their work, while adding that protection for frontline staff was “absolutely indispensable”.
But doctors and nurses were losing patience, with the Frederic Adnet, the head of an emergency department at Seine-Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris, saying supplies of protective clothing were clearly under strain.
“We know we are exposed,” he told French television. “We know a number of us are going to contract it and there will be a price to pay… with protective gear cruelly lacking.”
Almost one billion people were confined to their homes worldwide on Saturday as the global coronavirus death toll topped 12,000 and US states rolled out stay-at-home measures already imposed across swathes of Europe.
More than a third of Americans were adjusting to life in various phases of virtual lockdown — including in the US’s three biggest cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — with more states expected to ramp up restrictions.
New Jersey became the latest US state to restrict movement as the fast-spreading pandemic upends lives across the planet, closing businesses, shutting schools and forcing millions to work from home.
“This is a time of shared national sacrifice, but also a time to treasure our loved ones,” US President Donald Trump told a press conference. “We’re going to have a great victory.”
The virus death toll surpassed 12,000 worldwide as worst-hit Italy reported a one-day record number of deaths at 793 — the overall total shot past 4,800 — and Spain reported a 32 percent spike in new deaths.
The nearly one billion people are now confined to their homes in 35 countries around the world — including 600 million hemmed in by obligatory government lockdown orders — according to an AFP tally.
In France, police officials said helicopters and drones were being deployed to boost the government’s attempts to keep people in their homes.
“The helicopters will give us a larger vision and a panoramic view of the situation in real-time to help guide the patrols on the ground,” a national police source said.
The measures came as pressure mounted on Olympic organizers to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games — and as the US Congress thrashes out an emergency economic package that could top $1 trillion.
‘Months, not weeks’
With virus fears gripping the world’s number one economy, New Jersey followed several other states, including California, New York and Illinois, in telling residents to stay indoors.
Governor Phil Murphy ordered all non-essential businesses to close their physical stores from 9:00 PM (0100 GMT Sunday).
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned Saturday that the disruption is likely to last for months.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks,” he said.
China on Saturday reported no new local infections for a third straight day, and the WHO said the central city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged late last year, offered a glimmer of “hope for the rest of the world.”
But there are growing concerns of a new wave of “imported” infections in the region, with Hong Kong reporting 48 suspected cases on Friday –- its biggest daily jump since the crisis began.
Italy, a nation of 60 million now accounts for 36 percent of the world’s coronavirus deaths and its death rate of 8.6 percent among confirmed infections is significantly higher than in most other countries.
France, Italy, Spain and other European countries have ordered people to stay at home, threatening fines in some cases, while Bavaria became the first region in Germany to order a lockdown.
Britain also announced tougher restrictions, telling pubs, restaurants and theaters to close.
While the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are the hardest hit by the virus, the World Health Organization has warned that young people are also vulnerable.
Australia’s famed Bondi beach and Rio de Janeiro’s beaches were ordered shut.
A restriction on non-essential travel over the US borders with Canada and Mexico was due to come into force Saturday.
And US lawmakers expressed hope of striking an agreement on a $1 trillion emergency aid package, amid fears of widespread economic fallout because of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence said he and his wife would be tested for the coronavirus after one of his office staff contracted the illness.
And America’s Food and Drug Administration also approved the first coronavirus test that can be conducted entirely at the point of care for a patient — and deliver results in 45 minutes.
In sport, the USA Track and Field became the latest influential sports body to ask for the Summer Olympics to be called off.
“The right and responsible thing to do is to prioritize everyone’s health and safety,” chief Max Siegel said in a letter to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
The strict confinement measures follow the template set by China, as a lockdown imposed in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, appeared to have paid off.
Europe now accounts for more than half of the world’s fatalities linked to COVID-19.
Accurate figures are difficult to come by, however, as many of those who die suffer from other illnesses, and infection rates are uncertain because of a lack of testing in many countries.
The shadow of the virus is lengthening across Africa and the Middle East as well.
Cases stand at more than 1,000 across Africa, where health care systems are fragile and social distancing is not possible in many crowded cities.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Finland, Lithuania and Mauritius all reported their first virus deaths Saturday.
In Iran, which reported 123 new deaths Saturday, both supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani promised the country would overcome the outbreak — but still refused to join the rest of the world in imposing heavy restrictions.
The country has more than 1,500 deaths and some 20,000 infections.
In Latin America, Bolivia ordered citizens to stay at home from Sunday, and Colombia said it would begin mandatory isolation from Tuesday.
French homeless organisations on Friday accused police of issuing fines to rough sleepers for failing to comply with self-isolation requirements under the strict social lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Without providing numbers, they said fines have been issued to homeless people in the French capital Paris, in Lyon in the east and Bayonne in the southwest.
“We request that clear instructions be given… so that these sanctions cease immediately,” Florent Gueguen, head of the FAS federation of homeless organisations told AFP.
French society has been in lockdown since midday Tuesday, with excursions from the home limited to buying food, visiting the doctor, walking the dog or going for a solitary jog.
Workers are only allowed to go to the office if their employer does not provide an option for working from home.
People who venture outside need to carry a certificate, which can be printed from the government website, to declare the reason for their trip, and risk a 135-euro ($145) fine if they cannot show one.
French authorities say several dozen homeless people have been infected with the COVID-19 virus. Those who cannot be accommodated in homeless shelters and do not need hospitalisation, will be taken to new, dedicated centres in the coming days.
The government is also requisitioning hotel rooms to house the homeless during this period.
France on Thursday mooted extending a two-week lockdown to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk.
President Emmanuel Macron has ordered French residents to stay at home except for essential excursions such as going to the doctor, walking the dog, or going for a solitary run, and banned any gatherings.
For a two-week period that began Tuesday, people can go to work only if their employer cannot make tele-commuting possible.
But news reports have shown groups of friends and families strolling in parks despite the clampdown, prompting calls from some officials for even stricter limits.
Many have been observed ignoring the one-metre (three feet) safe inter-personal distance in queues at the essential businesses that were allowed to stay open.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said people ignoring the measures were “idiots”.
“There are people who underestimate the risk… There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots,” he told Europe 1 radio.
Macron on Thursday urged companies and workers to continue their activities “in compliance with the health safety rules”.
Genevieve Chene, who heads France’s public health agency, said between two and four weeks are needed for the outbreak to be adequately contained.
“Within two to three weeks we should be able to observe a slightly different dynamic” to the outbreak’s momentum, she told Franceinfo radio, and “a significant braking” within two to four weeks.
“It is likely that it is indeed necessary to extend (the containment measures) in order for the braking to be sufficient,” Chene said.
The timing will depend largely on how closely people conform with the confinement measures, she added.
People who do not, insisted Castaner, “are putting themselves at risk, their families and their loved ones, but also the health workers who will be there, even if they behaved foolishly… to treat them, to save them”.
The minister also railed against thefts of surgical masks from hospitals, and said the authorities would deal harshly with anyone found to be involved in the “despicable” illegal trade of such protective equipment.
He warned that anyone selling fake authorisation certificates, which people now need to carry every time they leave the house, face up to a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros.
Chene said the experience of other hard-hit countries had shown that the outbreak peaks after one to two months, and lasts about two to three months overall.
Based on the outbreak in China, where the virus first emerged in December, France’s peak would happen around the middle or end of May, she added.
She said there are probably “more cases in France than can be confirmed every day.”
Meanwhile, the French government has started requisitioning hotel rooms for homeless people to occupy during the confinement period, Housing Minister Julien Denormandie announced.
More than 170 rooms will be made available in Paris by the end of the week, and the government has identified 80 sites elsewhere across the country to accomodate the country’s estimated 250,000 homeless people.
Some 50 million euros has been set aside for the project.
France goes into a near-total shutdown Tuesday over the coronavirus, the latest country to impose draconian restrictions affecting the lives of tens of millions of people.
European leaders also plan to ban all non-essential travel into the continent on Tuesday in a bid to stem a pandemic that has upended society, battered markets and killed thousands around the world.
With French President Emmanuel Macron describing the battle against COVID-19 as a “war”, governments around the world are scrambling to keep the public safe with measures rarely seen in peacetime, slamming borders shut and forcing citizens to stay home.
The crisis is infecting every sector of the economy, and global stocks have been on a rollercoaster ride, with Wall Street on Monday sinking more than 12 percent in the worst session since the crash of 1987.
Investors are still in panic mode, despite emergency interventions by central banks and governments to shore up confidence.
After the initial outbreak in a Chinese city in December, Europe has emerged as the epicentre of the virus with more deaths now recorded outside China than inside.
COVID-19 has now killed more than 7,000 people worldwide, including over 2,100 in Italy, the worst-hit country outside China.
More than 180,000 cases have been recorded in 145 countries.
The head of the World Health Organization called Monday for every suspected coronavirus case to be tested, something which would send the known tally of the sick sky-rocketing.
“You cannot fight a fire while blindfolded,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists. “Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”
In a sombre address to the nation, Macron ordered the French to stay at home for 15 days from midday Tuesday, banning all non-essential trips or social contacts.
Most shops, restaurants and tourist sites in the world’s most visited country are already shuttered.
About 100,000 police and gendarmes will be out on the streets to enforce the measures, after Macron warned violations would be punished.
“We are at war, a public health war certainly. We are fighting not against an army or another nation. But the enemy is there, invisible and elusive and on the move,” he said.
With European nations already closing their borders, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would ask the leaders of the bloc’s Schengen visa-free border zone to stop all non-essential travel into the area.
“Concretely, all trips between non-European countries and EU countries will be suspended for 30 days,” Macron said.
This follows a ban on inbound travel to the United States, whose President Donald Trump steeled the nation for a fight against the virus that he warned could last months.
US health officials said the first human trial to evaluate a possible vaccine had begun, although it may be another year to 18 months before it becomes available.
French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi and American drugmaker Regeneron also said they had started clinical trials for a new drug, Kevzara, an immuno-suppressor.
In another small glimmer of hope, China reported just one new domestic case on Tuesday — but found 20 imported from abroad.
– ‘Apocalyptic vibe’ –
Trump said he was asking Americans to restrict gatherings to groups of fewer than 10 people — as the streets of New York and the capital Washington stood largely deserted.
One customer at a French restaurant in Brooklyn said she felt the moves were unprecedented.
“I want strong leadership, but it’s scary. I’ve never experienced anything like this before and I don’t think my parents have, I don’t think anyone has,” Kelly McGee told AFP.
“There’s something about being in this apocalyptic vibe and being with other people and experiencing it together that I think I still crave.”
Trump acknowledged the United States “may be” heading into a recession due to the virus, as G7 leaders vowed to coordinate their response to the virus and “do whatever it takes, using all policy tools” — after a meeting held via videoconference.
Every sector from tourism to food to aviation is affected, as the global economy effectively goes into shutdown.German giant VW on Tuesday joined other European car makers in closing down plants and major world airlines have axed almost all flights temporarily, triggering pleas to help carriers survive.
Italy announced plans to renationalise national carrier Alitalia, while France said it was also ready to nationalise large companies if necessary.
There are growing doubts too over the European football championships set to take place in 12 countries this summer and the Olympics in Japan, as the virus shreds the sporting calendar.
Very few countries have been left untouched by the virus as it continues its relentless march across the globe, and a cascading number are taking increasingly drastic responses.
Britain called for an end to all “non-essential” contact and travel, while Switzerland declared a state of emergency.
Germany banned gatherings in churches, mosques and synagogues and said playgrounds and non-essential shops would close.
Tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia were ordered into effective home quarantines, with Malaysia and the Philippines announcing unprecedented lockdowns.
In India, the world’s second-most populous country, where most schools and entertainment facilities have already shut down, the Taj Mahal was closed to visitors.
France pressed on with local elections Sunday despite having closed bars and restaurants, as more nations imposed tight restrictions to try and contain the coronavirus that has infected more than 150,000 around the world.
Following Italy’s move last week, Spain on Saturday imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown, banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.
The COVID-19 virus has so far claimed 196 lives in Spain, making it the worst-hit European country after Italy. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s wife is among those infected.
France, meanwhile, ordered the closure of restaurants, bars, cinemas and nightclubs, but said food shops, pharmacies and banks would remain open, while voting began for local elections.
In a sign of growing alarm, the US extended a travel ban on European nations to the United Kingdom and Ireland, starting midnight on Monday.
The restrictions threw airports across the US into disarray, with incoming travellers forced to wait hours for medical screenings.
US President Donald Trump tested negative for the disease, having come into contact with several members of a Brazilian presidential delegation who have since tested positive.
“One week after having dinner with the Brazilian delegation at Mar-a-Lago, the president remains symptom-free,” Trump’s physician Sean Conley said.
The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has gone past 156,000 worldwide with more than 5,800 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
– Borders and airports closed – A week that saw schools and businesses shut down indefinitely, millions of travellers barred from crossing borders, celebrities and politicians infected and the whole of Italy locked down ended with a flurry of government announcements.
Australia on Sunday announced all arrivals in the country will face mandatory 14-day self-isolation, starting at midnight (1300 GMT Sunday).
“We are going to have to get used to some changes in the way we live our lives,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Trump declared a national emergency and announced a $50 billion package, with similar measures being taken by governments from Austria to Canada.
European nations ramped up border controls, while Chile has quarantined more than 1,300 people aboard two cruise ships after an elderly Briton aboard one of them tested positive for the coronavirus.
Squares and streets from Milan to Madrid were deserted on Saturday as government calls to stay at home were heeded by most.
Some Italians took to singing to each other from their windows to beat the isolation, while the Vatican said Sunday that its traditional Easter week celebrations would be held without worshippers.
The country that saw the biggest increase over the last 24 hours was Italy, which recorded 175 deaths, while Iran had 97 and Spain 63.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed Europe as the new epicentre of the pandemic after a dramatic slump in domestic cases in China, where the virus first emerged in December last year.
China on Sunday reported 16 new imported cases of the coronavirus, the highest in over a week.
Public health dilemmas
The human cost is rapidly being matched by the economic cost — financial markets endured a rollercoaster ride all week with spectacular losses triggered by fears of a global recession followed by huge gains after government spending pledges.
Tech giant Apple closed all of its stores outside China until March 27 while British Airways became the latest global firm to hint at drastic action to come, with CEO Alex Cruz telling staff to expect job losses.
Airlines have cancelled thousands of flights worldwide and some airports have shut terminals.
As economies reel and finance experts mull the impact, governments are also facing public health dilemmas — whether to try to stamp out the disease entirely with drastic restrictions or try to manage its spread.
British officials have argued for trying to flatten the curve — managing the outbreak to push the peak of the crisis to summer when hospitals will be able to cope better.
They have said this will help create “herd immunity”, though experts are divided over whether there is evidence to support the theory.
“We don’t know enough about the science of this virus, it hasn’t been in our population for long enough,” said the WHO’s Margaret Harris.
Football seasons curtailed
Britain had resisted imposing any major restrictions, but the media reported on Saturday that a ban on large gatherings would come into force from next weekend.
But most other governments in affected regions have already ordered drastic action.
On Sunday, the Philippines closed off its capital Manila, Saudi Arabia banned international flights, and New Zealand said arrivals would have to self-isolate.
Africa has so far been spared the worst of the illness, but Rwanda declared its first case on Saturday in a sign of the widening global spread and Madagascar said it was suspending flights to Europe for a month from March 20.
Also growing was the impact on the sporting calendar, with football seasons curtailed, Formula One races postponed and cricket tours called off.
Japan was forced to deny claims that the Tokyo Olympics could be called off after Trump said “maybe they postpone it for a year”.
France moved Friday to bolster cross-border coordination of the coronavirus response, marshalling G7 leaders for an extraordinary summit via videoconference, and launching an EU discussion on stricter border control.
Next Monday’s talks by the Group of Seven nations — the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and Japan — will seek to harmonise action against the virus in the spheres of health, economy, finance and research, the French presidency announced.
The G7 summit, initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron who discussed it with US counterpart Donald Trump by telephone Friday, would be the first-ever held by videoconference.
The United States, current chair of the G7, and others in the group “all gave their agreement” for the meeting, the Elysee Palace said.
“Following my call with @realDonaldTrump and all G7 leaders, we agreed to organize an extraordinary Leaders Summit by videoconference on Monday on Covid-19,” tweeted Macron.
“We will coordinate research efforts on a vaccine and treatments, and work on an economic and financial response.”
International cooperation was “essential to face this crisis and its consequences, particularly economic ones”, said the presidency.
Macron also spoke Friday to EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
He proposed that the bloc reinforce or even close the borders of the visa-free Schengen area to add other heavily affected or high-risk areas of the world.
But Macron wants to “avoid non-coordinated” measures such as Schengen countries unilaterally closing their borders to other members of the group in violation of common rules, the Elysee said.
Slovakia and the Czech Republic, both members of the free-travel Schengen area, said Thursday they were closing their borders to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Other member states including Austria, Slovenia and Hungary have suspended passport-free Schengen travel rules and reimposed border checks, particularly with Italy, as the EU came in for criticism for its lack of a collective coronavirus response.
EU-wide recommendations on the subject will be discussed at a home affairs ministers meeting of the EU27 nations in Brussels later Friday.
Von der Leyen on Thursday warned against unilateral travel restrictions such as those imposed by Trump on people travelling from Europe.
“The coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent, and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action,” she said.
President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced schools in France would close indefinitely from next week to curb the spread of the coronavirus, also urging people over 70 to stay at home.
In an address to the nation on the fight against COVID-19 which has already killed 61 people and infected almost 2,900 in France, Macron made clear that it could no longer be business as usual.
Creches, schools and universities would close from Monday “until further notice”, Macron said, describing the novel coronavirus as France’s most serious health crisis for a century.
But the president also announced that nationwide local elections scheduled for Sunday will not be postponed.
“We are just at the beginning of this crisis,” Macron said.
“In spite of all our efforts to break it, this virus is continuing to propagate and to accelerate.”
From Monday, “and until further notice, all creches, schools, middle schools, high schools and universities will be closed,” he said.
Macron asked all people older than 70, those who suffer chronic diseases, respiratory troubles and the handicapped, “to stay at home” if possible.
As for the elections, Macron said he had consulted scientists and other experts who were of the opinion that “there is nothing to prevent the French, even the most vulnerable, from going to the ballot box.”
The French president said Europe will have to react “fast, and strongly” to “relaunch” the economy in the wake of the epidemic, adding that any steps to close borders will have to be jointly decided “at the European level”.
He said the measures against the virus were needed so that “we continue to win time against this epidemic” which he emphasised “has no passport”.
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, has confirmed that two out of the three recent suspected cases of Coronavirus identified in Lagos are negative, while the result for the last is still being awaited.
Channels Television reported that the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, on Thursday, disclosed that three cases have been identified were being tested in the Lagos isolation centre.
One of those involved, he added, is a Nigerian who returned from France four days ago, a second entered the country from the United Kingdom and a third from China.
Dr Ehanire, while updating journalists on the recent development of the COVID-19 case in Nigeria on Friday, stressed that the results take some time to come out, but the country has only one confirmed case.
“As of the three cases, one of them, we are expecting the result; it takes some hours for the results to come out.”
The Minister urged Nigerian to desist from profiling or trying to know the identity of suspected cases.
“We must go away from the idea of focusing on Chinese or any particular nationality because a case that entered Nigeria, which is the index case is not Chinese.
“If we are profiling and focusing on the wrong areas, we risk losing the right thinking,” he maintained.
Adding, Dr Ehanire said that authorities have already strengthened the screening of every passenger using the country’s entry-point, noting that soon, passengers departing the country will be screened.
“People should maintain good social distance. We have already strengthened the screening of every passenger that enters this country.”