A curfew announced by French President Emmanuel Macron Wednesday evening evoked mixed reactions in France on Thursday, with some hailing it as a necessary measure to stem COVID-19 spread, others casting doubt on the efficiency and being worried about the economic fallout.
The curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the great Paris region and eight big cities in France to be effective as of Friday midnight will last for at least four weeks, according to the president. The situation is worrying and the curfew is a “pertinent” measure while having the whole country locked down again would be “disproportionate”, Macron explained in a televised interview Wednesday evening. On Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex said the government would seek parliament approval to prolong nightly curfew by two weeks until Dec. 1.
Some 12,000 police and gendarmes will be mobilized in the coming weeks to do the check every night in the concerned zones. Anyone who violates the curfew will be fined 135 euros (158 U.S. dollars) and repeat offender, after three times, risks six months in prison plus a 3,750-euro fine, according to the Ministry of Interior.
EXPERTS SPLIT ON CURFEW EFFECTIVENESS
While many applauded Macron’s move to introduce curfews in COVID-19 hotspots, some cast doubt on its efficiency, and others, especially hospitality and culture workers, were worried about economic losses. Jean-Francois Mattei, president of the National Academy of Medicine, believes a period of curfew is “necessary” to reduce the circulation of the virus before moving on to a normal life. “The challenge we face is to confront this virus collectively. It was time to take such steps,” he said.
“When we take the example of French Guiana or Guadeloupe (overseas departments), which have experienced it before us, we can think that the consequences will also be positive.”
In French Guiana, which borders Brazil, a curfew was imposed after it emerged from a lockdown on May 11. And data showed that both COVID-19 incidence and the number of patients in resuscitation units went down after the curfew.
But, Benjamin Davido, an expert in infectious disease, saw the other face of the coin.
“I think the curfew is not the answer. It would have been useful in summer when people went out a lot. But, today I can’t see how by blocking the country (from 9 p.m.), we will reduce the circulation of the virus and the flow of patients in resuscitation,” Davido said. “Contamination will continue throughout the day,” he added, calling for reinforced test-trace strategy and better application of measures already put in place.
Speaking to LCI television, Professor Christian Brechot, a virologist, agreed that the new rule would “reduce the number of contacts” but warned that “it will be at a very heavy economic price.” The curfew means a fresh blow to culture and hospitality business as people will be only allowed to leave home after 9 p.m. for work, health emergencies, pre-booked journeys or walking pets, provided they can show relevant documents. “It is a measure to close our establishments… It’s what will happen. We’re at the end of the line, we can’t take it anymore,” said Didier Chenet, president of the National Group of Independents, Hotel and Restaurant Industry (GNI).
Chenet noted that the area where the curfew is due to be in place represents 80 percent of turnover of hotels, cafes, bars, breweries and restaurants of the whole country. “We are suffering from losses due to the successive closures and sanitary protocol that we apply. It is not with loans that we are going to repay and compensate them, it is economic nonsense,” he said, noting that more than 10,000 companies are affected by a potential bankruptcy and more than 200,000 jobs are at stake.
In response to dismay of hospitality, catering, event industries, Minister of the Economy, Finance and the Recovery Bruno Le Maire pledged “to reinforce, simplify and expand once again” the solidarity fund set up by the government since the outbreak of the epidemic. All companies with less than 50 employees in curfew zones and which have lost 50 percent of their business compared to 2019 will be benefit from aid of up to 500 euros (584.91 U.S. dollars).
In addition, all businesses to be closed during the curfew would be exempt from their social charge. Banks would postpone interest payments on state-guaranteed loans to struggling activities to June 2021. “The new measures will cost about 1 billion euros over the duration of the curfew,” Le Maire said.
Before the curfew, some extra restrictions have already been in place for nearly two weeks, which have forced closure of bars, pools and gyms. However, infections continue to climb rapidly. On Wednesday, France reported 22,591 new infections. It was the third time since last Friday that the daily case count exceeded 20,000. The cumulative number of infections rose to 779,063, Europe’s second biggest tally after Spain, while deaths increased by 104 to 33,037.
Data released by health authorities showed additional 245 patients were admitted to hospitals, bringing the total to 9,194, of whom 1,673 needed to be put on ventilator. As to the new extra restrictions, Health Minister Olivier Veran believes they are “necessary, temporary and effective.” “It takes several weeks for a measure to be effective.
Confinement has shown its effectiveness in several weeks, it needs patience,” he added. During the national lockdown between March 17 and May 11, France saw its average of daily infections above 4,500 in the first half of April before going down to below 1,000 in May, figures show. (1 euro = 1.169 U.S. dollar)