PARIS (AP) – France’s president says he has no reason to regret refusing to impose a third national lockdown earlier this year, even as rising coronavirus infections are affecting his country’s hospitals and more than 1,000 people with the virus die each week.
The government of President Emmanuel Macron has emphasized the importance of keeping children in school and businesses afloat as the pandemic continues into the second year. The families of French COVID-19 victims say, however, that Macron has turned a blind eye to their suffering.
“We did well not to implement a blockade in France at the end of January because we did not have the explosion of cases that all models predicted,” Macron said Thursday night at the end of a European Union summit. “There will be no mea culpa on my part. I have no regrets and I will not admit failure. “
For months, France has advocated a “third way” between confinement and freedom, including a nationwide curfew and the closure of restaurants, museums, cinemas, gyms, many shopping malls and a few other businesses. The measures kept France’s infection rate stable for a time, but it has risen again sharply this month.
France has recorded the fourth highest number of confirmed virus cases and one of the highest number of deaths from pandemics with 93,378 lives lost. Intensive care units are again at or beyond capacity in Paris and several other regions due to a flood of critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Many medical workers have for weeks urged the French government to impose stronger restrictions in response to the most contagious variant of the virus first identified in Britain, which is now the dominant form of the virus in France.
“There is no zero virus situation, and that is true for all countries in Europe. We are not an island, and even islands that had protected themselves sometimes saw the virus return, ”Macron said. “But we believe that with the curfew and the measures we had, we could cope.”
Relatives of deceased COVID-19 people took to social media to express their anger at Macron’s comments.
“I started listening to it and it started to irritate me and I had to change the channel,” said Lionel Petitpas, whose wife, Joelle, died last year.
“It’s crazy. Macron, the prime minister, they always think they are making the right decision. As a citizen, I say no, because we are in exactly the same situation as a year ago,” Petitpas, who initiated an association to allow families to mourn together for victims of the virus.
He recognized the challenges faced by those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods to the pandemic. But he asked, “What good is an economy if there is no one left healthy enough to run it?”
While the government is determined to avoid a new blockade across the country, Macron said tougher measures may be announced in the coming days. Last week, the government closed non-essential stores and imposed travel restrictions for residents of Paris and several other regions, but some doctors fear that is not enough to stop the new outbreak.
“We have been at 100% occupancy for almost a month. We have expanded our capabilities to the maximum, ”Dr. Mohamed El Hadi Djerad of the Pierre Beregovoy Hospital in Nevers in Burgundy told the local station France-3. “We are in a crisis situation.”
The infection rate in the Burgundy region doubled in two weeks.