COVID-19 IN FRANCE

Emmanuel Macron to address nation as France’s Covid epidemic worsens

French President Emmanuel Macron was to address the nation on Wednesday as a surging Covid epidemic is forcing hospitals in many parts of France to the breaking point.
French President Emmanuel Macron was to address the nation on Wednesday as a surging Covid epidemic is forcing hospitals in many parts of France to the breaking point. Ludovic MARIN POOL/AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron will make a prime-time address to the nation on Wednesday, his office has announced. The president’s first address since November comes as the Covid epidemic worsens, with many hospitals overloaded.

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The French president is under increasing pressure to confront a situation in which hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

In his televised address at 8pm, he is expected to respond to criticism that he has allowed the epidemic run out of control.

Namely, Macron has drawn fire from opposition politicians and some medical experts for refusing to impose a nationwide lockdown sooner, despite warning signs that a more contagious variant of the virus causing Covid-19 was becoming dominant.

At the end of January, Macron opted not to heed the advice of scientific advisors and follow Britain, Germany and other neighbours in imposing a new national lockdown.

For some time, the wager appeared to pay off, with case numbers stable around 20,000 per day through much of February and the country in a state of semi-openness, under a 6pm curfew but with shops and schools open.

But France’s vaccine campaign was slow to take off during that period, and the epidemic accelerated in March, with daily cases now hovering around 40,000 and hospitals in several regions reporting they are overflowing.

Macron’s first national address since announcing the gradual end to a second lockdown last November will follow a weekly meeting of the group of top cabinet ministers and the special health council that has the final say on Covid restrictions.

Over peak of second wave

Rather than impose a third lockdown, Macron’s administration has trumpeted what it calls a “third way” to manage the crisis, seeking measures designed to limit the spread of the virus without stay-at-home orders that come with significant mental health and economic consequences.

Restrictions that came into effect on 20 March affect about a third of the population, closing some shops and limiting travel but tolerating limited outdoor gatherings.

The alarming situation in schools in the most affected regions has received much media attention in recent days. New rules for closing classrooms entered effect on Monday.

France’s government has remained steadfast in its committed to keep schools open since after the end of the first lockdown last June, but is under new pressure to address the situation. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo called Wednesday for schools in the capital to be closed.

With more than 5,000 Covid-19 patients now occupying France’s ICU beds, the health system has surpassed the peak of the second wave in November. Paris hospital officials have warned they will be faced with the difficult task of  selecting patients for intensive care based on their chances of survival.

Prime Minister Jean Castex will take part in parliamentary debates over the country’s response to the epidemic in the National Assembly and the Senate on Thursday.

(with newswires)

 

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