Coronavirus: France imposes lockdown as EU calls for 30-day travel ban
France has imposed a near-total lockdown and the EU is to ban foreigners entering the bloc for 30 days as governments adopted measures rarely seen outside wartime in a draconian effort to curb the rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
As the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged countries to “test, test, test” for the virus, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said the citizens must stay at home from midday on Tuesday for at least 15 days.
“We are at war – a public health war, certainly but we are at war, against an invisible and elusive enemy,” Macron said, outlawing all journeys outside the home unless justified for essential professional or health reasons. Anyone flouting the new regulations would be punished, he said.
“There can be no more outside meetings, no more seeing family or friends on the street or in the park,” he said. “We must slow the spread of this virus by limiting the number of people we are in contact with each day to the strict minimum. If we do not, we endanger the lives of those we hold dear.”
He pledged to help both the French economy – with a €300bn (£273bn) package, saying “not a single firm will go bankrupt” – and French households, promising that all gas, electricity and heating bills and rents would be suspended throughout the crisis.
Macron said France’s borders would be closed from Tuesday, although French citizens would be allowed to return home. The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, called earlier on Tuesday for an end to all non-essential travel to Europe.
“The less travel, the more we can contain the virus,” she said. “We think non-essential travel should be reduced right now in order to not spread the virus further, be it within the EU or by leaving the EU.”
Von der Leyen said the restrictions – which would not apply to UK nationals – should last for 30 days initially but may be extended. Permanent EU residents, family members of EU nationals, diplomats, doctors and coronavirus researchers would be exempted, she said.
Officials said the move, which could be approved by leaders in a video conference on Tuesday, was aimed mainly at removing the need for national controls at borders between the 26 members of the passport-free Schengen zone.
France, which has reported 5,423 confirmed coronavirus cases and 127 deaths, closed all bars, restaurants and non-essential shops from midnight on Saturday and creches, schools and universities from Monday morning. Paris closed all its parks and gardens.
Germany which has recorded 5,813 cases and 13 deaths from Covid-19, introduced border controls with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland on Monday, allowing through only those with a valid reason for travel such as residents, cross-border commuters and delivery drivers.
In line with a growing number of EU countries, the federal government and state leaders also agreed to close almost all shops except food stores, banks, pharmacies and petrol stations, ban religious gatherings, shutter hotels and restrict visits to hospitals and care homes.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said these were measures “we have never had in our country, but they are necessary to reduce the number of illnesses and avoid overwhelming our health services. The more people stick to these rules, the quicker we get through this phase.”
In Spain, where the coronavirus toll climbed to 309 on Monday with 9,191 confirmed cases, the government announced sweeping measures allowing it to take over private healthcare providers and requisition materials such as face masks and Covid-19 tests.
The health minister, Salvador Illa, said private healthcare facilities would be requisitioned for coronavirus patients, and manufacturers and suppliers of healthcare equipment must notify the government within 48 hours.
The Spanish government declared a state of emergency on Saturday, placing the country in lockdown and ordering people to leave their homes only if they needed to buy food or medicine or go to work or hospital. The transport minister, José Luis Ábalos, said it was “obvious” the measures would be extended beyond the planned 15-day period.
The US Federal Reserve and other central banks unveiled sweeping emergency measures over the weekend to boost the global economy amid mounting fears that the epidemic, which has infected nearly 170.000 people globally and killed more than 6.500, may tip the world into a recession.
Italy said it was ready to intervene again if needed. The prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, told Corriere della Sera the measures unveiled so far were “not sufficient”. Italy’s death toll from Covid-19 passed 2,000 on Monday with the announcement of another 349 victims.
“Damage will be serious and widespread,” Conte said. “Scientists are telling us that the outbreak has not reached its peak, these weeks will be the most risky, and the maximum precaution is needed.”
Police have fined 20,000 people in four days for not complying with the rules, and some Italian Riviera beaches and promenades around the northern city of Genoa were closed after crowds filled them over the weekend in violation of lockdown rules.
South Korea, once the biggest outbreak after China, reported its third day when recoveries have outstripped infections. In the country as a whole, 74 new infections were reported on Monday, well below the peak of 909 in late February.
The country warned, however, that a new cluster of infections had surfaced in Seongnam city, south of Seoul, where at least 40 members of a Protestant church tested positive after services were held despite a government ban on mass gatherings.