In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that his country “is at war.” At 12 p.m. on Tuesday, he closed his country’s borders and ordered people to stay at home. Macron described Covid-19 as “an invisible, elusive enemy, and the measures were unprecedented, but circumstances demanded them.”
France’s National Lockdown
France’s nationwide lockdown will last for just under two weeks and alongside the actions outlined above, Macron has announced an incredible amount of measures never taken before during peacetime. Macron has gone one step further than British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and actually banned people from visiting family and friends.
Local elections will now be brought to a halt and the French Government will be dedicating all of its resources to curbing the coronavirus as opposed to pension reform. The French President has also deployed the military to set up a hospital in Alsace in the east of France, something both Boris and US President Donald Trump have not done yet.
Although Johnson advised people to stay away from social venues like pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas without issuing an order to close them, Macron shut them down.
Furthermore, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has deployed 100,000 police officers to ensure that people stay at home unless they have to partake in essential duties. French citizens are being threatened with a €135 fine if they fail to comply with the French authorities. This is possibly the most dramatic step any government has taken so far to ensure that people stay at home.
Macron Deserves Credit for His Dedication to Keeping His People Safe
Macron deserves credit for his dedication in trying to keep his own citizens safe. Considering his popularity took a beating in July, 2018 and his En Marche! party lost out to former rival Marine Le Pen and her National Front at last May’s European elections, his approval ratings have started to rise again since September. RFI reported that his popularity rating that month reached 37 percent, up by three points since August.
Though no polling data has yet been released on how the French people have reacted to the French President’s decisiveness over the last week to stem the number of Covid-19 cases, it is clear that he is adopting policies similar to those of other nations that encourage people to self-isolate. These include staying away from social venues and closing other places where people can interact with each other, like polling stations.
However, Macron’s decision to severely restrict people from visiting their friends and family and for fining people who breach his restrictions encroaches upon people’s fundamental liberties.
The French President’s Decree Will Weaken Communities
The French President’s decision will also prevent communities from coming together to help each other. For elderly residents who are self-isolated and have no one else to turn to, who will do their shopping for them if they cannot depend upon kind volunteers to do so?
Politico reports that thousands of French people gathered in parks and food markets last Sunday, which shows that enforcement measures are difficult to implement.
This is also an encroachment upon people’s right to travel. As Georgetown University Law School’s Lawrence Gotsin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, told NPR, quarantine orders should be enforceable by law towards those who are not showing symptoms but have been exposed to the virus, but lockdowns implicate the right to travel and freedom of movement. They punish the majority of citizens for the mistakes made by those who know they have been exposed to Covid-19, but still choose to travel or leave their home anyway.
The French President has issued many necessary measures, but by enforcing a lockdown of this severity, he has gone too far and infringed on people’s basic civil liberties. This is very dangerous territory.