French Senate approves state of health emergency amid spike in infections

Health workers put together protection kits at the Édouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon three days after a strict lockdown came into effect in France to stop the spread of COVID-19, March 19, 2020.
Health workers put together protection kits at the Édouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon three days after a strict lockdown came into effect in France to stop the spread of COVID-19, March 19, 2020. © Jeff Pachoud, AFP
2 min

French senators have approved a bill giving the government special powers to fight a worsening coronavirus outbreak that has killed 372 people in France, with President Emmanuel Macron warning that the country is only "at the start of this crisis".

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The text, which will be examined by the National Assembly on Friday, allows the government to restrict people’s freedom of movement and rule by decree to requisition certains goods and services, over a period of two months.

The bill also empowers the government to take special measures in support of French companies hard-hit by the virus outbreak.

It was passed overnight by an overwhelming majority of senators, who were meeting in reduced format in line with health guidelines.

However, numerous left-wing senators abstained in protest at the duration of the state of emergency, which they considered too long.

The opposition senators also objected to giving companies the power to force employees to take part of their annual holiday leave during the crisis.

'Race against the virus'

France crossed the threshold of 10,000 coronavirus cases on Thursday, the third day of a nationwide lockdown, with health authorities revealing 108 new deaths in just 24 hours – a 20 percent increase on the previous day. 

During a press conference, health agency director Jérôme Salomon added that the number of cases had risen to 10,995, up from 9,134 on Wednesday. Salomon said 1,122 people were in a serious condition, needing life support.

"We are at the start of this crisis. We have taken exceptional measures to absorb this first wave, but we've started a race against the virus," President Emmanuel Macron said at the beginning of a crisis meeting at the Interior Ministry on Friday.

"We must react a great deal and reorganise ourselves at every moment. We need to anticipate," he added.

Macron's government has come under intense pressure from overstretched health professionals over a shortage of face masks, gloves and other basic equipment.

It is estimated France has around 5,000 beds equipped with the necessary gear but these are unevenly spread around the country.

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