Prime Minister Jean Castex of France on Thursday extended to the entire country health restrictions that had so far been imposed only in areas hard-hit by the virus. The new rules were announced shortly after the French police searched the homes and offices of several current and former officials as part of an inquiry into the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting Saturday, all restaurants will have to follow a strict health protocol that includes keeping registers of customers for contact-tracing and keeping seating to no more than six per table. Private parties will be forbidden in public spaces, and rules to encourage social distancing, such as limiting the number of spectators or visitors in cultural venues or customers in shopping centers, will be enforced throughout the country.
The rules are part of the renewed state of emergency announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday. Other measures include a nightly curfew around Paris and eight other major cities, for at least four weeks.
Residents of affected areas will be barred from leaving their homes between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and will have to carry a form explaining the reasons for travel during that time slot, Mr. Castex said. Permitted outings include work, dog-walking, trips for health reasons, and travel to and from train stations and airports.
Some 12,000 police officers will be deployed throughout the country to enforce the curfew, said Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.
The move is expected to deal a fresh blow to France’s restaurant and tourism industries, which make up nearly 10 percent of economic activity. The government said it would grant up to 1 billion euros in financial aid to businesses and extend an offer of cheap, state-backed loans. Officials will also direct money to theaters and other culture operations that can’t function under the new measures, and are encouraging people to continue taking vacations and patronizing hotels.
Mr. Macron highlighted the tension between economic and health concerns as he announced the curfew. A new lockdown for an already reeling economy would have been “disproportionate,” he said, yet the pressure on hospitals was intolerable. “Our caregivers are exhausted,” he said.
The seven-day average of new cases over the past week was 17,936 on Wednesday, and intensive care units were rapidly filling with virus patients. Mr. Castex said that slowing down the spread of the virus with targeted curfews was the “only real possible strategy.”
The police searches on Thursday included the homes and offices of France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, and Jérome Salomon, a top official at the health ministry, as well as the homes of former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the former health minister Agnès Buzyn and a former government spokeswoman, Sibeth Ndiaye.
The inquiry was launched in July by the French Court of Justice, a special court that hears accusations of government mismanagement. Over the past few months, more than 90 complaints had been filed, accusing several government officials of willfully failing to take appropriate action to combat the virus, endangering people’s lives.
The French Court of Justice examined all of the complaints but finally decided to accept only nine of them, with the charge of failing from fighting a disaster. This offense is punishable by two years of imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 euros.
The French government has been harshly criticized for its handling of the first wave of the virus, from March to May, which resulted in about 30,000 deaths. A critical shortage of masks and testing kits led to the virus’s rapid spread and prompted France to impose one of the world’s strictest nationwide lockdowns