Paris, Mar 16 (efe-epa).- French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a televised national address Monday evening in which he told his countrymen that “we’re at war … a health war,” saying that the European Union is closing its borders and ordering a general lockdown in France to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are at war, in a health war. It’s true that we’re not fighting either against an army or a nation, but the enemy is here, invisible and evasive, and it’s advancing. This requires our general mobilization,” Macron said, going on to say the country was “at war” half a dozen times during his speech and calling the coronavirus pandemic “the biggest health crisis that France has known in a century.”
Starting at noon on Tuesday, the public will be prohibited from leaving their homes – unless strictly necessary – for the next 15 days. Social family and group gatherings will be banned, and even walks outside will be prohibited, Macron said, although he made clear that certain exceptions will be allowed and people who cannot telecommute and those who need medical care, or need to purchase food or medicine or help family members, will be allowed to venture forth.
“I have decided to close all non-indispensable locations, notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs, and shops,” he said. “We must absolutely limit our movements.”
He also instructed residents of France not to take public transport unless absolutely necessary.
The French leader also told his countrymen that travel between the European Union – of which France is a member – and non-EU countries will be restricted for 30 days, also starting Tuesday at noon, although French citizens who are currently abroad will be allowed to return home provided they contact their local French embassies.
The national mobilization will also be economic, the French leader said, adding that he is creating a Solidarity Fund to help businessmen and will launch an “exceptional mechanism” to postpone social and tax burdens, as well as creating a state guarantee fund of 300 billion euros (about $336 billion) for bank loans taken out by small businesses.
“No company will be abandoned to the risk of bankruptcy,” Macron promised in his speech.
The president also announced the deployment in the coming days of a military campaign hospital in the eastern portion of Alsace, adding that the army will help transport ill people from the parts of the country hardest hit by the virus to reduce the congestion in hospitals there.
On Wednesday, a bill will be presented in the Council of Ministers that will allow the government to mount a rapid response to the current emergency, by executive decree if that proves necessary, and the reforms under way in France, including revamping the retirement pension system, have been suspended until further notice.
Macron said that people who violate the lockdown, movement restrictions or other elements of the latest set of measures will face penalties, specifically fines.
He went on to say in his address that the second round of the municipal elections have been postponed as a new precautionary measure to hinder the spread of the coronavirus, the postponement coming after a historically high voter abstention rate in the first electoral round on Sunday and what had been growing criticism of the government for failing to delay the second round.
The French president did not say when the second round – originally scheduled for next Sunday – would be held.
Macron made the decision to postpone the second round after consulting with the heads of the Senate, Gerard Larcher, and the National Assembly, Richard Ferrand, and with his two immediate predecessors: socialist Francois Hollande and conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.
Although Macron did not specify when the second round of voting would be held, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Monday proposed to Larcher and Ferrand, as well as to the leaders of the various political parties, that they be held on June 21.
Despite the calls last week by the opposition to suspend the first round of voting on Sunday, Macron said that the consensus to postpone the second round had been unanimous among those officials with whom he consulted.
The voter abstention rate in Sunday’s municipal elections was above 50 percent.
More than 6,600 Covid-19 cases have been diagnosed in France as of Monday and the local death toll stands at 148.