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Address by President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron on the COVID-19 coronavirus

Publié le March 16, 2020
Elysée Palace, Paris - March 16, 2020

Women and men of France,

On Thursday night I spoke to you about the health crisis that our country is confronting. Up until that point, for some of you the epidemic was maybe a distant notion; it has become an immediate and pressing reality.

As I announced, the Government has taken strong measures to slow the spread of the virus. Nurseries, primary and secondary schools and universities are closed as from today. On Saturday evening, restaurants and all shops not considered to be essential for the life of the Nation also closed their doors. Gatherings of over 100 people were also prohibited. France has never had to make such decisions – which are, of course, exceptional and temporary – in peacetime. They were taken in an orderly, prepared way, based on scientific recommendations and with one sole objective: to protect us from the spread of the virus.

During the day on Thursday, a scientific and political consensus formed around maintaining the first round of the local elections and, together with the Prime Minister, I made the decision to continue with the vote. Yesterday, Sunday, the vote therefore went ahead. I would like this evening to thank the State services, mayors, all of the town hall services and all those who ran the polling stations thereby enabling this vote to go ahead. I would also like to extend my warm thanks to the French people who, despite the context, went out to vote, in strict accordance with the health recommendations, and the anti-virus barrier actions. Tonight, I would also like to congratulate, on behalf of the Republic, the candidates who were elected during the first round. Approximately 30,000 communes out of 35,000 have a municipal council after this first round vote. But, at the same time, while healthcare workers on intensive care wards were warning us all about the seriousness of the situation, we also saw people gathering in parks, packed markets, restaurants and bars which did not respect the instructions to close. As if life hadn’t really changed.

To all those who, by behaving like this, defied the instructions, I would very clearly like to say this evening: not only are you not protecting yourselves – and recent trends suggest that everyone is vulnerable to this virus, including the youngest in society – but you are failing to protect others. Even if you have no symptoms, you can transmit the virus. Even if you have no symptoms, you risk infecting your friends, your parents, your grandparents, and endangering the health of those who are dear to you.

In the Grand Est, Hauts-de-France and Île-de-France regions, our healthcare workers are fighting to save lives with dedication and strength. At a time when the health situation is worsening fast, when pressure on our hospitals and healthcare workers is growing, all of our commitment, energy and strength must be focused on one sole objective: slowing the spread of the virus.

I would like to repeat this with conviction tonight: we must respect the barrier actions and healthcare instructions. It is the only way to protect vulnerable individuals, to infect fewer of our fellow citizens and therefore reduce the pressure on our intensive care services so that they can take in more patients and provide them with more effective treatment.

Without serious symptoms, we should contact our general practitioner. You must not call the emergency services or go to hospital unless you have a high fever or difficulties breathing, otherwise they will not be able to deal with the wave of serious cases which is already on the horizon in some regions.

We must show solidarity and a sense of responsibility. Each and every one of us must at all costs limit the number of people with whom they are in contact every day. Scientists have told us that this is our absolute priority. This is why, after having consulted and listened to the experts, those on the ground, with my eyes open I have decided to further strengthen the measures to limit our movements and contact to what is strictly necessary. From noon tomorrow and for 15 days at least, our movements will be seriously reduced.

This means that gatherings outside the home and meetings with family and friends will no longer be allowed. It will no longer be possible to meet with friends in the park or in the street. We must limit our contact outside our homes as much as possible. Across French territory, in metropolitan France and the Overseas Territories, we must only go out if necessary, to go food shopping, adopting a disciplined approach and keeping a minimum of one metre between each other, not shaking hands, not hugging each other, to seek medical care, of course, to go to work if it is not possible to work from home and to do some sport but without, once again, meeting friends or loved ones. All businesses must organize themselves to facilitate working from home and, where this is not possible, they must adapt their organization, from tomorrow, to comply with the anti-virus barrier actions, to protect their workers, or, for the self-employed, to protect themselves. The Government will set out the precise procedures for these new rules this evening, after my speech. Any violation of these rules will result in a fine. It is with great solemnity, this evening, that I say we must listen to our healthcare workers who are telling us: if you want to help us, you must stay at home and limit your contact with others. This is the most important thing. Obviously, this evening, I am setting out new rules, we are imposing prohibitions and they will be enforced. But the best rule is the rule that you, as citizens, impose on yourselves. Once again, I am appealing to your sense of responsibility and solidarity.

In this context, after consulting the President of the Senate, the President of the National Assembly and also my predecessors, I have decided that the second round of the local elections will be postponed. This very day, the Prime Minister informed the party leaders represented in Parliament of this. The decision met with unanimous agreement.

My dear compatriots, I appreciate the impact of all these decisions on your lives. Giving up seeing your loved ones is a wrench; stopping your everyday activities and habits is very difficult. That mustn’t prevent us from staying in touch, calling our families and friends, providing updates, as well as organizing things with our neighbors, devising new forms of solidarity between generations, and remaining – as I told you last Thursday – extremely supportive, and being innovative on that point too. I know I’m asking you to stay at home. I’m also asking you to stay calm in this situation. In recent hours I’ve seen panic manifesting itself in every sphere. We must all have a spirit of responsibility. Fake news must not circulate left, right and centre. When staying at home, take care of your loved ones in your flat, in your house. Provide updates, receive updates. Read, and also regain a sense of what really matters. I think that’s important in the times we’re living in. Culture, education and a sense of what things mean is important. And avoid panicking, believing every false rumor and pseudo-expert. The words are clear, the information is transparent and we’ll continue to provide it. But believe me, I know this effort I’m asking of you is unprecedented, but the circumstances oblige us to make it.

We are at war, admittedly a health war: we’re fighting neither an army nor another nation. But the enemy is there, invisible, elusive, and it’s making headway. And that requires our widespread mobilization.

We are at war. All the action of the Government and Parliament must now be geared towards combating the epidemic. Both day and night, nothing must divert us from this. That’s why I’ve decided that all the reforms under way will be suspended, beginning with the pensions reform. On Tuesday, at the Council of Ministers, a bill will be presented enabling the Government to respond to the emergency and, when necessary, legislate through ordinances in areas strictly related to crisis management. That bill will be submitted to Parliament on Thursday.

Earlier I saw the Presidents of the National Assembly and Senate to ensure that these texts can be voted on as quickly as possible, and also so that democratic life and parliamentary scrutiny can continue in this period. I thank them for it, and I thank all our members of Parliament at this time.

We are at war. I call on all the political, economic, social and charity stakeholders and all French people to be part of this national unity that has enabled our country to overcome so many crises in the past.

We are at war. The Nation will support its children – healthcare professionals in towns and cities, in hospitals – who are in the front line of a battle that will demand their energy, determination and solidarity. We owe them this. We also, obviously, owe them resources and protection. We shall be there. We owe them masks, gel, all the necessary material; we’re ensuring and will ensure this. Together with the scientists, we’ve decided to reserve masks first and foremost for hospitals and for urban and rural medicine, particularly GPs and nurses, who are now also in the front line of managing the crisis. Tomorrow evening, masks will be delivered to chemists’ shops in the 25 most affected departments, and on Wednesday in the rest of the country. I’ve also heard the message from specialists, in particular dental surgeons and many others. Solutions will be found together with the Health Minister in the next few hours.

We also have a duty to healthcare professionals to look after their children: a basic childcare service is in place from today in nurseries and schools. We also owe them peaceful journeys and rest. I’ve therefore decided that, as of tomorrow, taxis and hotels can be made available for them. The State will pay.

Yes, we’re at war. During this period, the country will support the regions most affected today and those which will be tomorrow. In this respect, I want to reassure residents and healthcare professionals in the Grand Est region that we will be equal to the task in helping them cope with the influx of patients and hospitals becoming saturated. I know what they’ve been experiencing for days and days; we are with them. Because of this, I’ve decided that an armed forces health service field hospital will be deployed in Alsace in the coming days. The armed forces will also lend their support in moving patients from the most affected regions, thus reducing congestion in hospitals in certain areas.

We’re at war. As I told you on Thursday, to protect ourselves and contain the spread of the virus, but also to protect our care system, we took a joint decision with the other Europeans this morning. From noon tomorrow, borders into the European Union and Schengen Area will be closed. In concrete terms, all travel between non-European countries and the European Union will be suspended for 30 days. French people currently abroad who wish to return home will of course be able to re-enter their country.

We must take this decision because I’m asking you this evening to make significant efforts and because we must protect ourselves over the long term. I want to say to all our compatriots living abroad that, again, in an orderly way, they must contact embassies and consulates and we’ll organize, for those who wish and when necessary, their repatriation. As you’ll have understood and sensed, this unprecedented health crisis will have major human, social and economic consequences. This is also the challenge we have to meet.

I’m asking you to make sacrifices to slow the epidemic. Never must these undermine assistance to the most vulnerable, the long-term future of businesses, or employees’ and self-employed workers’ livelihoods. For those in the most precarious situations, for the most destitute, for isolated people, we’ll ensure, with the major charities and local authorities and their services, that they can be fed, protected and that the services we owe to them are ensured.

As regards economic life, as far as France is concerned, no business, whatever its size, will be exposed to any risk of bankruptcy. No French person will be left without any means of support.

When it comes to businesses, we’re putting in place exceptional measures to postpone tax and social charges, support the deferral of scheduled bank repayments and provide a guarantee scheme of up to €300 billion for banks [on their loans to companies]. For the smallest of them and for as long as the situation lasts, those facing difficulties will not have to pay anything out as regards taxes or social contributions. Water, gas and electricity bills and rent payments will have to be suspended.

Moreover, in order for no one to be left without means of support, for employees the short-time working mechanism will be massively extended, as I announced to you last Thursday and as the Government has started to specify. For entrepreneurs, traders and self-employed non-professionals, a solidarity fund will be created, funded by the State, and the Prime Minister will also suggest the regions contribute to this. From tomorrow, the Government will provide details of all these measures. They’ll be dependent on the needs, the economic realities, the requirements sector by sector, obviously tailored [to each sector]. We shall deliver, to ensure that our economy is protected in this very tough period and that all workers can also have that security in terms of purchasing power and continuity in their lives.

My dear compatriots, France is going through a very difficult time. No one can predict its precise duration. As the days go by and problems give way to more problems, we’ll have to adapt, in line with the clarifications given by the scientists and experience on the ground. We’ll also continue, in this period, to work and make progress on treatments.

I’m aware of the dedication of several teams throughout our country, and the first rays of hope, and we’ll also continue making progress on the vaccine. I’ll address you regularly. Each time, as I’ve done and as the Government is doing, I’ll tell you the truth about the developing situation.

I’m certain of one thing: the more quickly we act together, the more we’ll overcome this ordeal. The more we act as citizens, the more we show the same strength of mind, the same patriotic self-sacrifice currently being shown by our care professionals, our firefighters and all those involved in the emergency services, the sooner we’ll emerge from this life in slow motion. We’ll get there, my dear compatriots, by being united and mutually supportive. I ask you to be responsible, all together, and not give in to any panic, to accept these constraints, uphold them, explain them, apply them to yourselves – we’ll all apply them to ourselves, there will be no special favors – but there again, not to give in to panic or to disorder. We shall win, but this period will have taught us a great deal. Many certainties and strong beliefs are being swept away and will be called into question. Many things we thought impossible are happening. Let’s not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. Let’s take strong action, but let’s remember: the day after, when we’ve won, it won’t be a return to the day before. We’ll be stronger morally, we will have learned, and I too, together with you, will accept all the consequences, all the consequences.

Let us rise, individually and collectively, to this occasion.

I know, my dear compatriots, that I can count on you.

Long live the Republic, long live France!

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