Coronavirus: Macron imposes lockdown as G7 holds conference

French government will guarantee €300 billion worth of loans

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday ordered strict restrictions on movement to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and said the army would help to take the sick to hospitals.

France had already closed restaurants and bars, schools and ski resorts, but Mr Macron said measures unprecedented in peacetime were needed as the number of infected people doubled every three days and deaths rose.

In a sombre address to the nation, he said that from Tuesday at noon, people should stay at home unless it was to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise or seek medical care.

Anyone breaking the restrictions, in place for at least the next fortnight, would be penalised, although Mr Macron would not say how.

“I know what I am asking of you is unprecedented but circumstances demand it,” he said.

“We’re not up against another army or another nation. But the enemy is right there: invisible, elusive, but it is making progress.”

About 100,000 police will be posted to enforce the lockdown, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

Checkpoints will be set up nationwide and those on the move will have to be able to justify their journey on a printed ministry document, pedestrians included, Mr Castaner said.

Mr Macron said tougher action was needed after many people ignored earlier warnings and mingled in parks and on street corners at the weekend.

In France the coronavirus has killed 148 people and infected more than 6,600.

Hours before the lockdown took effect, Parisians rushed to train stations or took to the roads to escape the French capital.

Under the new measures, soldiers would help to drive the sick to hospitals, and a military hospital with 30 intensive-care beds would be set up in the eastern region of Alsace, where one of the largest infection clusters has broken out.

Mr Macron said he was postponing the second round of local elections on Sunday because the government’s sole focus needed to be fighting the pandemic.

Coronavirus infections and deaths in France and Spain have been surging at a pace only days behind that of Italy, the centre of the outbreak in Europe, where hospitals in northern regions are stretched to breaking point.

Seeking to offer further reassurance to businesses, Mr Macron said the government would guarantee €300 billion (Dh1.231 trillion) worth of loans.

The guarantee plan would be submitted to Parliament in the coming weeks and would be retroactive, a finance ministry source said.

Rent and utility bills owed by small companies would also be suspended to help them weather the economic storm, the source said.

“No French company, whatever its size, will be exposed to the risk of collapse,” Mr Macron said.

Earlier on Monday, he said entry to the EU’s Schengen zone would be closed from Tuesday.

Mr Macron said the action was being taken in co-ordination with the other EU members.

Exemptions could be given to long-term residents in the bloc, border area workers and relatives of European nationals and diplomats.

British citizens would not be included in the ban, even though the UK officially left the EU on January 31.

Meanwhile, the US and its top economic allies pledged on Monday to more closely share information about the coronavirus and availability of medical equipment, and to support jobs, global trade and investment.

They said they would bolster science, research and technology, and try to restore public confidence about the pandemic threatening the world’s economy.

US President Donald Trump and other members of the Group of Seven – Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and France – held a teleconference to co-ordinate responses.

The call also sought to reduce US-European tension over the US travel ban and reports about White House talks with a German company developing a vaccine.

“We are mobilising the full range of instruments, including monetary and fiscal measures, as well as targeted actions, to support immediately and as much as necessary the workers, companies and sectors most affected,” the G7 said.

But the leaders also addressed a controversy involving German company CureVac that rattled top German officials, including Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, who said: “Germany is not for sale.”

On Sunday, Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper, quoting unidentified government sources, reported that Daniel Menichella, the former head of CureVac, joined Mr Trump’s meeting with pharmaceutical managers in March.

The report said Mr Trump offered the German company a large amount of funding to secure its work for the US.

The company, which is based in Tuebingen, Germany, and has a site in Boston, on Monday denied reports that the Trump administration was trying to acquire it.

“CureVac has not received from the US government or related entities an offer before, during and since the task force meeting in the White House,” the company tweeted on Monday.

Shortly after the teleconference, the EU announced it was providing $89.4 million (Dh328.3m) of financial support to CureVac to speed up production of a vaccine.

“We are determined to provide CureVac with the financing it needs to quickly scale up development and production of a vaccine against the coronavirus,” Ms Von der Leyen said.

“I am proud that we have leading companies like CureVac in the EU. Their home is here.

“But their vaccines will benefit everyone, in Europe and beyond.”

Updated: March 17, 2020 06:16 PM


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