The French government will impose a daily nationwide curfew at 6:00 pm starting Saturday to fight the spread of Covid-19, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday.
The measure will remain in force for at least two weeks, Castex told a news conference.
Up to now, most of France has been under an 8:00 pm curfew, with some parts of the country, especially in the hard-hit east, already under the stricter 6:00 pm curfew.
Castex said a much-feared infection surge following the year-end holidays had not happened, but said a new lockdown could be imposed “without delay” if the health situation were to deteriorate badly.
The situation in France is “under control”, he said, but still “fragile”.
Schools will remain open, but indoor sports activities have again been banned for now.
Castex also said that travellers arriving in France from non-European Union destinations would have to present a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old, and would have to self-isolate for seven days. They would then have to take a second test.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Saturday lamented the killings of three people killed by a knife attacker in the Mediterranean city Nice and named “radical Islamism” as an “enemy” for the country.
“We know the enemy, it has not only been identified but has a name, it’s radical Islamism,” Castex told a memorial service in Nice, recalling that the city had already paid a “heavy toll” when 86 people were killed in a 2016 truck ramming attack against a crowd on France’s July 14 national day.
Radical Islamism is “a political ideology which distorts the Muslim religion by twisting its scriptures,” he added.
“Every time it’s France that’s in the sights, is the target of terrorism,” Castex said.
In response to the Nice attack, believed to have been carried out by a recently-arrived Tunisian migrant, French President Emmanuel Macron has begun pushing for tighter security at the external borders of Europe’s Schengen free-travel zone.
With the continent also stunned after a gunman killed four in the Austrian capital Vienna on Monday, France has already doubled the number of guards on borders with its EU neighbours, to 4,800, and raised its terror alert level to the highest setting.
Ministers are also pressing North African former colonies Tunisia and Algeria to take back their citizens convicted in France of terrorism offences.
The Nice attack echoed the killing two weeks earlier of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee after showing his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson on freedom of speech.
In September, a man had attacked people outside the former offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which originally published the caricatures.
In a country on edge, 200 investigations were opened last week alone for supporting terrorism, death threats, insults or hate speech related to Paty’s killing.
Numbers were “exploding”, a judicial source said. “We have many threats targeting politicians, the president, the prime minister, several ministers, MPs, teachers,” with many referring to “decapitation”.
But Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz noted that the probe’s target “all kinds of people, radicalised people but also people with mental health problems or who send a message without realising how serious it is”.
A number of schoolchildren have been targeted in probes over support for terrorism, some after joking about or sharing pictures of Paty’s death.
France’s prime minister announced Thursday that face masks will become compulsory throughout Paris as he urged the public to help halt a trend of mounting coronavirus infections.
Jean Castex said 19 departments have been added to a map with “red” zones of active virus circulation, meaning 21 of mainland France’s 94 departments are now classified as such.
Official figures released Wednesday showed more than 5,400 confirmed new cases in just 24 hours, with admissions to hospital and intensive care units on the rise.
There was an “undeniable resurgence” of the Covid-19 epidemic throughout France, Castex told a press conference, with 39 positive tests per 100,000 population — four times the level of a month ago, and rising in all age groups.
The “positivity rate” — the percentage of tests that come back positive — was up from one percent in May to 3.7 percent today, and the so-called “R” rate of viral transmission is now 1.4 nationwide, meaning 10 infected people are infecting 14 others on average.
More than 800 coronavirus patients are being admitted to hospital on average each week, up from 500 six weeks ago, the prime minister said.
“The epidemic is gaining ground, and now is the time to intervene” to curb exponential infection growth, he said.
– Dash to avoid lockdown –
Castex announced that Paris, one of the 21 zones with active virus circulation, will make face masks compulsory throughout the city.
The city council later said the measure would come into effect at 8:00 am on Friday.
Masks are already obligatory on public transport nationwide and in most enclosed public spaces, including the workplace.
Local authorities in some cities and towns, including Paris, have also used executive powers to make face coverings compulsory in busy outdoor areas.
On Tuesday, the Mediterranean port city of Marseille — also in a red zone — made masks compulsory in public places throughout the city, including outdoors, and announced bars and restaurants would close every day at 11:00 pm.
Castex said the government would do everything in its power to avoid issuing new nationwide stay-at-home orders, but the possibility could not be excluded entirely and localised lockdowns may be on the cards.
– ‘Relaxation’ to blame –
He urged French people to do their part by taking infection-prevention measures such as regular hand-washing and mask wearing, and to practice social distancing.
Some “relaxation” in French society appears to have contributed to the post-lockdown infection rise, he said, with some unwilling to wear masks or follow guidelines to avoid parties or stay away from older people at higher risk.
The rate of infection increase was particularly high among people aged 20 to 30.
Castex said the situation was not yet “serious”, with the virus incidence rate still 20 times lower today than it was at the peak of the epidemic, when there were an estimated 1,000 cases per 100,000 of the population.
But if things do take a turn for the worse, he said hospitals were ready with sufficient beds, masks and equipment.
The outbreak has claimed over 30,500 lives in France.
Masks will become obligatory for all children over 11 when they return to school next week after the summer holidays, including on the playground, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced Thursday.
France’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex was on Monday expected to unveil a reshuffled government tasked with helping the economy brave its worst crisis since World War II and injecting fresh momentum into the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.
Castex, a senior bureaucrat and provincial mayor almost completely unknown to the French before his appointment Friday, is seeking to move quickly and decisively to convince sceptics he is the right choice for the job.
The 55-year old was appointed by Macron in place of Edouard Philippe as the president seeks a fresh start for the final two years of his mandate ahead of 2022 presidential elections.
France’s economy has been battered into a historic recession by the coronavirus crisis while Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party is reeling from its drubbing in local elections late last month.
Macron wrote on Twitter Sunday that a “new path” was needed, listing the new government’s priorities as “reviving the economy, continuing an overhaul of our social protection and the environment, re-establishing a fair republican order and defending European sovereignty”.
The failure of LREM — founded in the run-up to Macron’s presidential bid in 2017 — in local elections again showed up its lack of a grassroots base.
Analysts have said that by appointing a low-profile figure in place of Philippe — whose popularity was outstripping Macron’s — the president wants to tighten his grip on the reins of government ahead of 2022.
– ‘New talent’ –
French parliament speaker Richard Ferrand said he expected the new government to be announced on Monday morning after an intense weekend of exchanges between Castex and Macron.
An aide to Macron, who asked not to be named, said there would be “new talent” and “people who have come from different horizons”.
However few details have leaked over what changes there will be to the government, which under the centrist Macron has always been a delicate balancing act between left and right.
Castex, who drew up the plan for France to come out of its coronavirus lockdown, was himself a member of the right-wing The Republicans (LR) but confirmed he has now handed in his party card.
One job on the line is that of interior minister Christophe Castaner, criticised both by Black Lives Matter protesters over alleged racism in the police force but also by officers for a perceived lack of support.
But it is far from clear if those holding the key ministries of state — ex-rightwinger Bruno Le Maire at economy and former Socialists Jean-Yves Le Drian and Florence Parly at foreign affairs and defence — will be moved on.
– ‘Not an option’ –
Much attention is on the future of the environment ministry, a troubled domain for Macron after the sensational resignation from the post of popular campaigner Nicolas Hulot in 2018 on the grounds that it was impossible to get anything done.
Castex, not so far known for his green credentials, has said “ecology is not an option but an obligation”, following a strong performance by the Greens in municipal polls.
But Yannick Jadot, an MEP and key figure in the EELV green party, retorted that there was “perfect continuity between Jean Castex and Edouard Philippe”, saying neither “had ever shown any kind of interest in the climate or biodiversity”.
Philippe meanwhile has returned to the relative peace of his old job as mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre. Opinion divided over whether he will fade into the background or could one day pose a challenge to Macron.