France announces 3-week school closure, domestic travel ban



Macron said last week that accelerating vaccination was a "national priority", but he also admitted European nations had lacked "ambition" around vaccine procurement.

"We have a entered a race [between] on the one side the deployment of vaccination [and] on the other the spread in all of Europe of a new form of virus", he said, referring to the variant originating in the United Kingdom, which he called "an epidemic within the epidemic".

Starting on Saturday, the strict measures already in use in parts of the country - including the Parisian region of Ile-de-France and much of the north - will be extended to apply to all of continental France and Corsica. School closures in particular had been seen as a very last resort.

Non-essential shops were closed and travel restrictions imposed, but small groups were allowed to meet outside and schools allowed to remain open.

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

Macron reaffirmed his views against a prolonged closure of schools as "increasing social inequalities".

A debate is scheduled in parliament Thursday that will address the virus situation and the new measures.

Previous nationwide lockdowns in March and October 2020 were announced by Macron in televised speeches.

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Mr Macron's announcements come after doctors warned that hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed by the number of sick people needing treatment.

Nearly 44% of all Covid patients in intensive care units are under the age of 65, the President said.

"44% of people in French intensive care units with COVID are below 65 years of age".

After an overnight shift at an ICU in the northern French city of Amiens, Dr. Pauline Caillard described growing numbers of patients and mounting strain on medical staff. "I hope we do not have to make choices" between patients.

Macron will address the nation at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET) as he faces growing criticism over his approach to the current Covid-19 surge.

Macron, who is up for reelection next year, has justified the strategy by saying the country needed to consider the impacts on mental health and the economy in devising a balanced response to the third wave.

An overnight nationwide curfew from 7pm to 6am has been in place since January, and all France's restaurants, bars, gyms, cinemas and museums have been closed since October.

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