French PM extends coronavirus lockdown until April 15

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe speaks to the press at the inter-ministerial crisis coordination unit outside the French Interior Ministry in Paris on March 27, 2020.
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe speaks to the press at the inter-ministerial crisis coordination unit outside the French Interior Ministry in Paris on March 27, 2020. © Bertrand Guay, AFP

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced on Friday an extension of a nationwide lockdown in an effort to stem a surge in coronavirus cases across France.

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The French PM said in a speech that the government had decided to extend the country's coronavirus lockdown until April 15.

"After these first 10 days of confinement, it is clear that we are just at the beginning of this epidemic wave. It has submerged eastern France and now it is arriving in the Paris region and northern France," said Philippe.

For this reason, he said, the confinement period that began on March 17 would be extended from Tuesday next week, and added that the same rules would apply. The extension also applies to widespread business closures. 

Philippe said that this period would only be extended again if the health situation required it. 

France has reported nearly 1,700 deaths of people with the virus in hospitals, the fifth-highest number of any country worldwide. Among the recent deaths was that of a 16-year-old girl, France's youngest coronavirus victim to date.

The country has some 14,000 coronavirus patients in hospital, with 548 placed in intensive care just Thursday. Over 3,300 are in a critical condition.

Having started in the country's east, the epidemic is now spreading in the northernmost Hautes-de-France, the wider Paris region and other areas with "an extremely high surge that puts the entire healthcare system, the entire hospital system, under enormous pressure," Philippe said after a cabinet meeting held by videoconference.

'Stay at Home' 

On Thursday, the government used a high-speed TGV train to evacuate 20 patients from the Alsace region bordering Germany and Switzerland to help relieve overstretched facilities there.

Another 48 patients will be evacuated from the east over the weekend.

The Île-de-France region around Paris is increasingly under strain, with 1,300 of its 1,500 intensive care beds reserved for coronavirus patients already occupied.

"We are filling the space to the maximum to accommodate as many intensive care patients as possible," said Bruno Riou, medical director at the AP-HP hospital group that serves the capital's region.

"We have not yet reached the peak of the epidemic, we will have to find solutions," he told France Inter, suggesting evacuations may be needed to take patients from Paris to hospitals in less-affected regions.

French police have issued more than 225,000 fines for violations of the lockdown rules so far, Police Minister Christophe Castaner said Thursday.

Philippe said Friday that lockdown measures were generally well respected, but those in violation "will be severely punished as this concerns the health of all of us and, especially, the most fragile".

Starting Friday, the Eiffel Tower will pay a daily homage with a special light show spelling "Merci" to France's healthcare workers, and reminding the rest of the population to "Stay at Home".

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

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