PARIS - The spreading coronavirus outbreak has prompted several European countries to announce nationwide school shutdowns. That includes France. Some observers believe it may only be a matter of time before the country and others follow the path of Italy in putting citizens in nationwide lockdown.
The countrywide school shutdown will last at least 15 days for all French educational establishments — from kindergartens to universities. It counts among the most drastic of new measures French President Emmanuel Macron announced in a nationwide address to fight close to 3,000 coronavirus cases in the country.
Macron called on elderly citizens with health problems to stay home, announced help for businesses to cope with coronavirus-related losses, and urged bosses to let their employees work at home when possible. Major events are canceled but municipal elections taking place over the next two Sundays will go ahead for now.
Macron called the battery of prevention measures a way to gain time, so hospitals do not become overloaded. He urged civic responsibility.
In an apparent response to the Trump administration’s temporary U.S. travel ban on most of Europe, Macron said nationalism is not the answer to the coronavirus outbreak, since it respects no borders. He also called for a united and strong European response to deal with the virus and its financial fallout beyond fiscal stimulus measures announced Thursday by the European Central Bank.
France has one of Europe's highest coronavirus caseloads, although its numbers are still a fraction of those in neighboring Italy. However, speaking on French radio Friday, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said the nationwide lockdown Italy now faces risks becoming the rule across Europe. He urged France to move quickly to take Italy’s path.
Reactions to Macron’s announcements have been mixed, including, not surprisingly, from his political opponents. The French employers’ union saluted them.
Stephane Crochet, general secretary of the SE UNSA teachers union told French TV that the nationwide school shutdown was unexpected. French authorities, he said, had previously insisted that wouldn’t happen.