Macron Orders COVID-19 Lockdown Across All of France, Closes Schools

April 1, 2021 Updated: April 1, 2021

PARIS—President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday ordered France into its third national lockdown and said schools would close for three weeks as he sought to push back a third wave of COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

A primary school in the Paris suburbs amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
Tables and chairs are seen in a closed classroom at the private primary school Jeanne D’Arc in Saint-Maur-des-Fosses, near Paris, amid the CCP virus outbreak in France, on March 30, 2021. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

With the death toll nearing 100,000, intensive care units in the hardest-hit regions at breaking point, and a slower-than-planned vaccine rollout, Macron was forced to abandon his goal of keeping the country open to protect the economy.

“We will lose control if we do not move now,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.

His announcement means that movement restrictions already in place for more than a week in Paris, and some northern and southern regions, will now apply to the whole country for at least a month, from Saturday.

People enjoy a sunny and warm weather in Paris
French police patrol as people enjoy a sunny and warm weather sitting along the banks of the River Seine in Paris amid the CCP virus outbreak in France, on March 31, 2021. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Departing from his pledge to safeguard education from the pandemic, Macron said schools will close for three weeks after this weekend.

Macron, 43, had sought to avoid a third large-scale lockdown since the start of the year, betting that if he could steer France out of the pandemic without locking the country down again he would give the economy a chance to recover from last year’s slump.

But the former investment banker’s options narrowed as more contagious strains of the coronavirus swept across France and much of Europe.

People enjoy a sunny and warm weather in Paris
People enjoy the warm weather sitting on the grass near the Invalides in Paris amid the CCP virus outbreak in France, on March 31, 2021. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

For school children, after this weekend learning will be done remotely for a week, after which schools go on a two-week holiday, which for most of the country will be earlier than scheduled.

Thereafter, nursery and primary pupils will return to school while middle and high school pupils continue distance learning for an extra week.

“It is the best solution to slow down the virus,” Macron said, adding that France had succeeded in keeping its schools open for longer during the pandemic than many neighbors.

People enjoy a sunny and warm weather in Paris
People enjoy the warm weather sitting along the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris amid the CCP virus outbreak in France, on March 31, 2021. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Faster Vaccinations

Daily new infections in France have doubled since February to average nearly 40,000. The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care has breached 5,000, exceeding the peak hit during a six-week-long lockdown late last year.

Bed capacity in critical care units will be increased to 10,000, Macron said.

The new lockdown risks slowing the pace of France’s economic recovery from last year’s slump. It will force the temporary closure of 150,000 businesses at a cost of 11 billion euros ($12.89 billion) per month, the finance ministry said.

The set-back for France, the eurozone’s second-largest economy, may also dampen Europe’s hopes of bouncing back swiftly from the pandemic, in the way that the U.S. and Chinese economies are doing.

France’s new lockdown underlines the cost of the European Union’s slow rollout of anti-COVID vaccines.

Neighboring Britain, which finalized its divorce with the bloc on Jan. 1, has inoculated nearly half its population against the coronavirus and is re-opening its economy just as France hunkers down once again.

Macron said the vaccine campaign needed to be accelerated. Mired early on in red tape and slowed by supply shortages, it is only now finding its stride three months in, with just 12 percent of the population inoculated.

Bringing the calendar forward, Macron said people in their sixties would be eligible for a shot from mid-April and those in their fifties a month later. A goal of 30 million adults inoculated by mid-June remained the target, he said.

Seeking to offer hope, Macron said the April lockdown and a swifter vaccination campaign would allow the slow re-opening of the country from mid-May, starting with museums and the outdoor terraces of bars and restaurants, albeit under strict rules.

“We can see a way out of this crisis,” Macron said.

By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Geert De Clercq