PARIS – France on Thursday introduced the possibility of extending a two-week lockdown to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus as the interior minister blasted “idiots” who flout home confinement rules and put others at risk.
President Emmanuel Macron has ordered French residents to stay at home except for essential excursions such as going to the doctor, walking the dog, or going for a solitary run, and banned any gatherings.
For a two-week period that began Tuesday, people can go to work only if their employer cannot make tele-commuting possible.
But news reports have shown groups of friends and families strolling in parks despite the clampdown, prompting calls from some officials for even stricter limits.
Many have been observed ignoring the one-meter (three feet) safe inter-personal distance in queues at the essential businesses that were allowed to stay open.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said people ignoring the measures were “idiots.”
“There are people who underestimate the risk … . There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots,” he told Europe 1 radio.
Macron on Thursday urged companies and workers to continue their activities “in compliance with the health safety rules.”
Genevieve Chene, who heads France’s public health agency, said between two and four weeks are needed for the outbreak to be adequately contained.
“Within two to three weeks we should be able to observe a slightly different dynamic” to the outbreak’s momentum, she told Franceinfo radio, and “a significant braking” within two to four weeks.
“It is likely that it is indeed necessary to extend (the containment measures) in order for the braking to be sufficient,” Chene said.
The timing will depend largely on how closely people conform with the confinement measures, she added.
People who do not, insisted Castaner, “are putting themselves at risk, their families and their loved ones, but also the health workers who will be there, even if they behaved foolishly … to treat them, to save them.”
The minister also railed against thefts of surgical masks from hospitals, and said the authorities would deal harshly with anyone found to be involved in the “despicable” illegal trade of such protective equipment.
He warned that anyone selling fake authorization certificates, which people now need to carry every time they leave the house, face up to a year in prison and a fine of €15,000.
Chene said the experience of other hard-hit countries had shown that the outbreak peaks after one to two months, and lasts about two to three months overall.
Based on the outbreak in China, where the virus first emerged in December, France’s peak would happen around the middle or end of May, she added.
She said there are probably “more cases in France than can be confirmed every day.”
Meanwhile, the French government has started requisitioning hotel rooms for homeless people to occupy during the confinement period, Housing Minister Julien Denormandie announced.
More than 170 rooms will be made available in Paris by the end of the week, and the government has identified 80 sites elsewhere across the country to accommodate the country’s estimated 250,000 homeless people.
Some €50 million has been set aside for the project.