France heads back into lockdown amid surge of COVID-19 cases

French President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced nationwide school closures and a limited lockdown while defending his controversial strategy to confront soaring Covid-19 infections.

"We're going to close nursery, elementary and high schools for three weeks", Macron said, adding that a nationwide 7pm-6am curfew will be kept in place.

Macron has faced growing criticism over his approach to the current Covid-19 surge.

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

Under these restrictions, people are allowed to go outside for leisure, but within a 10km radius from their homes - and without socialising. "The virus is winning and we have lost control of the pandemic", Bouet said.

The possible closure of schools in France is seen as symbolic as the measure has repeatedly been described as a "last resort" by President Macron and Health Minister Olivier Véran.

His announcement comes after doctors warned that hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed by the number of sick people needing treatment.

More than 5,000 patients were in intensive care on Tuesday, the first time in 11 months that the figure has been that high, while daily new infections have doubled since February to almost 40,000.

The epidemic has killed 95,337 people in France and left intensive care units in the hardest-hit regions at the point of breakdown.

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

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

A less stringent lockdown was imposed again at the end of October a year ago, with schools remaining open.

'The situation is critical, ' added Juvin, who is also the mayor of La Garenne-Colombes in the Paris region.

The new variant first detected in the United Kingdom has created an "epidemic within an epidemic" and it is more contagious and deadly, he said.

With warm weather and sunshine on Wednesday, groups of young people could be seen congregating in public spaces around Paris, ignoring rules barring the consumption of alcohol outside.

Attal said "decisions were made" at the virus meeting but he did not divulge them before the president speaks. "All of this is true", he said.

"If we make this choice to extend them to the entire metropolitan territory, it is because no metropolitan area is now spared", he said.

"It's reckless and unacceptable for only 1% of global arrivals to quarantine in a hotel", said Nick Thomas-Symonds.

Still, a government source said the evacuations under discussion would not require family consent. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.

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