French President Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide four-week lockdown, closing schools and business, in the latest and alarming sign that Europe is yet again losing control of the pandemic. “We did everything we could to make these decisions as late as possible, when they became strictly necessary. That is now,” Macron said in a televised address on Wednesday. New variants make the virus “more contagious and deadlier.”
The French leader implored the nation to make an extra effort as the lockdown comes into force on Saturday. Restrictions will be flexible this weekend, during the Easter holidays, to allow people to relocate within regions. Seventy-one percent of French said they approved of the decision to extend restrictions, according to a snap Harris International poll.
Still, it represents a policy reversal for Macron. He had favored a localized approach, which the U.K. had also tried with little success, and his rejection of advice for stricter measures sooner comes with political risks a year out from presidential elections. Macron acknowledged mistakes in handling the pandemic, but said the nation was learning from them.
The situation in France has been worsening since December, with new Covid cases rising to 69,590 per million, nearly twice the number in Germany, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. There are 1,417 deaths per million since the start of the pandemic, putting France just shy of the 1,529 seen in Brazil.
Wednesday evening Italy also extended its partial shutdown well into April, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government saying current restrictions on movement and business openings in high-risk areas will remain in place until the end of April 30. Extra measures include making vaccination mandatory for medical staff.
The resurgence in the region’s outbreak is a setback for governments, whose plans to get life back to normal and revive their economies have already been stymied by a sluggish vaccine rollout across the EU.