France prepares sweeping new coronavirus restrictions

PARIS — The French government is set to announce coronavirus restrictions reminiscent of the lockdown imposed earlier this year, but with exceptions to try to avoid an economic catastrophe, officials said Wednesday.

Authorities are expected to order people to stay home except to make essential journeys, to take exercise or to go to work if remote working is not possible, officials in two ministries and parliament said ahead of an evening announcement by President Emmanuel Macron.

Crèches and schools are expected to remain open, but the question of whether high schools and universities would be completely or partially closed was still under debate, officials said.

“The second wave is here, it will be massive,” government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told a press conference. “We have implemented many measures to slow it down but, as everywhere in Europe, it affects us very widely … We must do everything we can to avoid being overwhelmed.”

In a television address at 8 p.m., Macron “will announce a new stage which was decided this morning … after consulting yesterday with political parties, parliamentary groups, associations of elected representatives as well as union representatives,” Attal said.

Ahead of Macron’s speech, officials were still discussing possible exceptions to the clampdown. The finance ministry was pushing to try to keep open-air markets open, officials said.

France has experienced a rapid increase in infections since August and reached a new peak on Sunday, with 52,000 new cases in 24 hours. Hospitals are already showing signs of stress in major cities, with 70 percent of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in the Paris region.

France moved to a curfew regime two weeks ago, banning travel between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m in high-risk regions. A nationwide curfew is expected to be in force as of Friday morning, but the exact duration remains unclear.

As part of the new guidelines, remote working is expected to be widely encouraged, including in the public administration.

By late afternoon, traffic jams clogged Paris as residents started to flee from the city to second homes before the new measures take effect.

Government ministers are expected to announce more details on the new measures on Thursday.

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