French President Emmanuel Macron has extended the country’s coronavirus lockdown until May 11, adding that while progress has been made, the battle has not yet been won.
Macron also apologized for his initial handling of the outbreak, saying that his government has “not prepared enough” for the crisis. According to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University Tuesday, the country has a total of 131,361 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 15,748 deaths.
Italy and Spain, two of the nations hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, have similar measures in place. That said, only one of these two is extending its lockdown like France.
On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte announced that the country will remain on lockdown until May 3 – a move decried by business unions in the country, warning that the extension would cripple the economy further. The prime minister, however, stressed that Italy could not afford another surge of new infections, which is currently at its lowest in weeks. As of writing, the country’s total coronavirus caseload stands at 162,488, with 21,067 deaths.
The government has made concessions on which businesses will reopen on a trial basis this week; however, the full list is expected to include just a tiny fraction of shops and factories. According to initial reports, book stores and baby clothes shops will be allowed to reopen, provided they can impose social distancing measures. Laundrymats and dry cleaners will also be considered.
In a televised address, Conte said that the extension is a “difficult but necessary decision” and that it was made after consultations with both scientists and union leaders.
“We are all, I imagine, impatient to get going again,” he added.
Meanwhile, Spain, the worst-hit country in Europe with 174,060 confirmed cases and 18,255 deaths, has started to relax its lockdown restrictions this week. On Monday, nonessential workers in factories and construction sites were allowed to return to work, provided they follow strict safety guidelines.
According to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the move comes as the number of new cases continues to drop. However, he warned that the country still needs to be vigilant if it wants to prevent a second wave of infections.
“We are still far from victory, from the moment when we will recover normality in our lives,” he added. “We are all keen to go back out on the streets… but our desire is even greater to win the war and prevent a relapse.”
Public health experts, however, have raised concerns over the premature exit, warning that loosening the lockdown was a “hasty” move by the Spanish government. Dr. Antoni Trilla, the lead epidemiologist at the University of Barcelona and an advising scientist to the government, said that while trying to return to normalcy and eke out profits is logical, “this must be accompanied by a good system to detect and isolate and treat the new cases that occur.”
In his televised announcement, Macron stressed that the country can’t afford a let-up, given the current situation in hospitals in Paris and eastern France. He pleaded with the nation to bear with the lockdown a little longer, saying that the current rules are working.
Since March 17, the country’s 67-million strong population has been hunkered down at home. Without the extension, the lockdown was slated to end on Tuesday.
“I fully understand the effort I’m asking from you,” Macron told the nation in a televised address.
“When will we be able to return to a normal life? I would love to be able to answer you. But to be frank, I have to humbly tell you we don’t have definitive answers,” he added.
The French president also admitted that his government had not sufficiently prepared for the coronavirus, especially during the early stages of the outbreak.
“This moment, let’s be honest, has revealed cracks, shortages. Like every country in the world, we have lacked gloves, hand gel, we haven’t been able to give out as many masks as we wanted to our health professionals,” said Macron humbly – a stark contrast to his warlike rhetoric in his previous statements.
He also noted that after the lockdown, schools and shops would be the first to reopen. However, restaurants, hotels, cafes and cinemas will still remain shuttered, and travel to non-European countries will continue to be prohibited until further notice. The government will also launch a financial aid package to keep families afloat during the extension.
Still, Macron sought to reassure his citizens, even as COVID-19 continues to push the French healthcare system – one of the best in the world – beyond the brink. The number of patients in intensive care units continues to decline – falling to 6,730 patients from 6,821 in 24 hours.
“We’ll have better days, and we’ll return to happy days,” he added.
Learn more about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.