Lockdown: France orders closure of restaurants and all 'non-essential' commerce to stem coronavirus

Place Capitole in Toulouse appeared deserted early on March 15, 2020.
Place Capitole in Toulouse appeared deserted early on March 15, 2020. © Eric Cabanis, AFP

France has gone on lockdown after French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe ordered the closure of restaurants, cafés and all other "non-essential" commerce beginning at midnight on Saturday. Groceries, pharmacies, tobacconists and petrol stations will remain open.


Prime Minister Edouard Philippe ordered most shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities to close starting at midnight on Saturday and told people to stay home as much as possible to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Philippe was speaking at a news conference after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected.

“I have decided to close all non-essential locations, notably cafés, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs and shops,” he said. “We must absolutely limit our movements.”

Exceptions to the ban will include grocery stores, pharmacies and petrol stations.

Philippe said the government had been left with no choice but to implement stricter measures after too many people were still out in the streets, enjoying cafés and restaurants and not sufficiently self-isolating as the government had earlier suggested.

That, he said, was helping accelerate the spread of the virus. France has already ordered the closure of all schools starting Monday and has advised people over the age of 70 to stay home.

“I am conscious of the efforts and sacrifices that we are asking, but I have faith that the French people will have the capacity to understand the seriousness of this moment,” Philippe said.

>> In pictures: France on lockdown as all 'non-essential' businesses close

The announcement came hours after France's health minister warned that people should not use anti-inflammatory painkillers – like aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen – if they have coronavirus-like symptoms because they could worsen the condition.

"Taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone ...) could be an aggravating factor for the infection. If you have a fever, take paracetamol," Health Minister Oliver Véran said on Twitter.


President Emmanuel Macron decided last week to go ahead with nationwide municipal elections on Sunday, saying it was vital for the democratic system to continue to function despite some criticism and concerns over the possibility of people being infected as they gather at polling stations.

Jérôme Salomon, the head of the French public health authority, said there had been a rapid increase in serious cases, including 300 people in intensive care, half of whom were below 60 years of age.

“To date, there has not been enough awareness by French women and men of the importance of their role in the face of the virus. It is urgent. Now is the time to change our behaviour,” he said.


“We must now do everything to delay, to slow down, to flatten the curve of this epidemic,” Salomon said. 

The government wants to avoid a situation where hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of serious cases after neighbouring Italy’s health system was severely strained by the coronavirus outbreak there.

France's interior ministry said on Sunday it would begin implementing tougher checks of both people and goods at the border with Germany in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus although it will not close the border completely, contradicting some earlier media reports. 

"We are going to limit border crossings to the strict minimum while allowing people and merchandise to go through. It's not a closure," an interior ministry source told AFP.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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