'We are at war': France's president imposes restrictions on movement to contain coronavirus

Reuters , Monday 16 Mar 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a television screen as he speaks during a televised address to the nation on the outbreak of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus, on March 16, 2020, in Paris.(AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday ordered stringent restrictions on people's movement that would last at least two weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus and said the army would be drafted in to help move the sick to hospitals.

France had already shut down restaurants and bars, closed schools and put ski resorts off limits, but Macron said measures unprecedented in peacetime were needed as the number of infected people doubled every three days and deaths spiralled higher.

In a sombre address to the nation, the president said that from Tuesday midday people should stay at home and only go out for essential activities. Anyone flouting the restrictions would be punished.

``We saw people gather in parks, crowded markets, restaurants and bars who did not follow the instructions. ... Not only are you not protecting yourself but you are not protecting others,'' he told the French people.

"I know what I am asking of you is unprecedented but circumstances demand it. We are at war and no one can forecast how long this current situation will go on for " Macron said.

He added, gas, electricity, water bills and rents will be suspended.

"No french company will be exposed to the risk of collapsing" Macron promised, adding the french companies's loans will benefit from State guaramntee worth a total of 300 billion Euros.

The French government will put its new 300 billion euro ($335 billion) loan package through parliament in the coming weeks, but firms will be able to benefit from it retroactively, a Finance Ministry source said on Monday.

The package is designed to soften the economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic.

"We're setting up from today a 300 billion euro package to guarantee loans to companies. This package will be presented to parliament in the coming weeks and will be retroactive," the source said.

The source added that banks had been asked by the finance ministry to allow companies to put off loan payments for six months without any fees.

Macron said he was postponing the second round of local elections on Sunday and was suspending the government's reform agenda, starting with his overhaul of the pension system.

France's Public Health Authority on Monday reported 21 new deaths from coronavirus taking the total to 148, an increase of around 16%.

It said on its website that the number of cases had risen to 6,633, up from 5,423 on Sunday, which is a rise of more than 20% in 24 hours. 

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