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Paris city hall suggests 3-week lockdown to combat virus

(File: Am empty road in Paris during the first lockdown on April 18, 2020. Photo: FRANCOIS GUILLOT-AFP)

PARIS, (AFP):- The Paris city hall suggested a three week lockdown to quell rising coronavirus cases in the French capital but faced swift accusations Friday that such a move was a political stunt with little effect.
France has so far avoided a third lockdown to battle Covid-19 but, with case numbers starting to rise, the government of President Emmanuel Macron is beginning to impose restrictions on a local basis.
Mayors do not have the power to impose lockdowns which must be approved by the government but Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said a three week measure would give “hope of everything reopening again” including cafes and cultural establishments.
“You can’t force yourself to live in a semi-prison for months. Now you have to make courageous decisions,” he told France Info radio late on Thursday, adding the city hall would propose the measure to the government.
However right-wing critics slammed the call, saying that the move by the city hall under Socialist Anne Hidalgo was electioneering ahead of a possible presidential bid by the mayor next year.
“Anne Hidalgo cannot use Parisians, play with their life and future, for the sake of PR stunts aimed above all at opposing Emmanuel Macron,” said the right-wing Change Paris group in a statement.
Its leader Rachida Dati, a former minster who stood against Hidalgo in last year’s local polls, added on Twitter: “A lockdown endangers the economic and psychological life of thousands of people and must not be about 2022” presidential elections.
The head of the wider Ile de France region that includes Paris, Valerie Pecresse, also ridiculed the suggestion, telling the Le Parisien daily that “millions of people” travel in and out of the region every day.
The controversy comes after the French Riviera around Nice and the northern coastal city of Dunkirk — two coronavirus hotspots — were placed this week under weekend lockdown.
Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday placed 20 other territorial areas known as departments, including Paris and its suburbs, under “reinforced surveillance”, meaning they too could soon be placed under partial lockdown.
“The health situation in our country has got worse,” he told reporters at a press conference late Thursday, saying that the figure of 31,000 daily infections recorded on Wednesday was the highest since November.
He added that the more rapidly-spreading variant that originated in England now accounted for almost half of infections in France.
Observers say Macron has gambled by resisting pressure for a third lockdown, with schools and non-essential businesses all open in contrast to France’s neighbours, even if cafes remain shut.

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