France Defends New Lock-Down Moves

PARIS (AP) -- France's prime minister on Thursday defended new nationwide measures to combat a resurgent coronavirus in France that include closing schools for at least three weeks and putting in place a month-long domestic travel ban, the government has acted "consistently and pragmatically."

The National Assembly, France's lower house, is voting on the new measures Thursday morning, which is expected to be marked by a massive boycott by opposition parties.

Jean-Luc Mlenchon of the leftist La France Insoumise party denounced the vote as a "bad April fool's." He has dismissed the measures as being half-baked and urged Macron to increase vaccine supplies and adopt a more effective vaccine strategy.

On Thursday the World Health Organization issued criticism of Europe's vaccine rollout as being "unacceptably slow."

Prime Minister Jean Castex said "the vaccination campaign is progressing and is being simplified every day. We have now reason to believe that we are advancing along the path of the possible exit to the crisis."

He said more than 8 million people in France have received at least one dose of vaccine.

In the southern Paris suburb of Antony, faced with a surge in COVID cases, parents and teachers mostly welcomed announcements that schools were to close on Friday for three weeks, earlier than the scheduled Easter break.

Some headteachers welcomed the plans, saying the virus had put too many strains on staffing.

"We'd reached a point where everything was falling apart. ... We were all close to exhaustion," said Aline Becker, an elementary and preschool headteacher.

The French government has announced there will be help for the poorest families to cope financially, amid high or impossible childcare costs. Castex confirmed aid for "modest families whose children will no longer go to the canteen or will no longer be able to enjoy free breakfasts."