French voters use hand sanitiser and face masks as they head to polls

French voters use hand sanitiser and face masks as they head to the polls despite country going on lockdown after death toll soared to 91 and ski resorts are all shutdown

  • Voters have been asked to bring their own pens and stand apart at polling booths
  • President Emmanuel Macron committed to holding the local elections last night
  • France was placed into lockdown last night with restaurants and cafes closed
  • The country reported a surge in cases by 832 last night and 12 more deaths
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

French voters have used hand sanitiser and face masks as they head to the polls to cast their vote during the coronavirus lockdown.

They have also been asked to bring their own pens and stand three-feet away from each other as they turn out to vote in local elections for 35,000 mayors and half-a-million municipal councils.

President Emmanuel Macron committed to the vote last night as he placed the country on lockdown and closed all ‘non-essential public places’ including cafes, bars and restaurants.

But officials fear that many will stay away despite assurances that the most basic measures will protect even the most vulnerable. 

France reported a surge in coronavirus cases by 832 last night, bringing its total to 4,499. As many as 91 people have died from the virus. There has also been a rapid increase in serious cases, said head of public health Jerome Salomon, with 150 people below the age of 60 in intensive care. 

Boris Johnson, who has not called for a lockdown, has pushed back the UK’s local and mayoral elections due to be held in May by a year. 

French voters have used hand sanitiser on entry and exit to booths during France’s local elections for mayors and municipal councils today. (Pictured is Paris’ incumbent mayor Anne Hidalgo preparing to vote)

French polling staff pictured wearing face masks at the polls in Paris today

French polling booth staff and voters have also been pictured wearing face masks at the polls

Latex gloves have also been deployed by voters to limit their exposure to coronavirus

France ordered the closure of all ‘non-essential’ public places last nights including cafes, restaurants and bars. (Pictured: Shuttered cafe in Toulouse, south France)

Voters were also asked to stand several feet apart at polling booths across France today. These voters are pictured in Cucq, western France

French polls opened across the country at 8am (7am GMT) and will be accepting votes until 6pm (5pm GMT) to 8pm (7pm GMT), depending on the municipality. 

Municipalities have said they will regularly disinfecting voting booths, ensuring a safe distance between voters waiting in line, and providing hand gels on entry and exit. Booth workers have also worn gloves and face masks as they direct the vote.

But the measures appear to be failing to convince voters, prompting fears of record abstentions in the election.

By noon today (11am GMT) turnout nationally was announced at 18 per cent, a five per cent drop compared to the local elections in 2014.

Disagreeing with holding the vote, voter Pascale, 59, who wore a mask to visit a polling booth in Paris’ seventh district, said: ‘It’s really not responsible. It will discredit the message for the seriousness of the situation.

‘I’ve got a lot of friends and family that will not go even if they usually carry out their civic duty.’

Hand sanitiser has been made available to all voters by municipal authorities. (Pictured in Cucq, western France)

A voter is pictured above signing in as a poll booth worker wears latex gloves in Cucq, France

A 60-year-old woman who voted in Paris said: ‘I am going to vote and keep living my life no matter what. I am not scared of the virus.’ 

A second round of voting is scheduled in France for March 22, but prime minister Philippe has suggested that these could be pushed back.

Observers say many are bound to shun the democratic exercise for fear of contamination with the virus.

A recent opinion poll said 28 percent of potential voters in France were ‘concerned’ about the risk posed by mingling at polling stations, often hosted by schools.

People stand a one-metre distance apart before casting their votes in France today

Hand sanitiser is given to voters before they enter polling booths in Strasbourg, eastern France

Voters and polling booth workers in Le Pontet, France, today casting their votes

‘It is important at this time, following the advice of scientists as we have done, to ensure the continuity of our democratic life and that of our institutions,’ Macron said.

Some 47.7 million people are registered to vote in some 35,000 municipalities in a country where mayors and local councillors enjoy high popularity compared to other levels of government. 

The election will be a key test for Macron, whose party swept Paris in the 2017 presidential election, but has since lost popularity in part due to its leader’s perceived autocratic leadership style and lack of common touch.

The French capital will be the main battleground, with incumbent socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo challenged by right-wing heavyweight Rachida Dati and Macron’s candidate Agnes Buzyn – who was parachuted in after his chosen hopeful, Benjamin Griveaux, pulled out over a sex-tape scandal. 

Many in France have questioned the wisdom of holding the vote even as the country indefinitely closed all creches, schools and universities, banned gatherings of more than 100 people, and urged residents to limit their movements. 

But French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner defended his government’s decision, saying there were about 1,000 voters to every French polling station on average.

And even if the participation rate is 60 percent — which is high – that would mean 600 people spread over 10 to 12 hours depending on the district.

Hand sanitiser pictured in front of voting card at a polling station in Mulhouse, eastern France

A voting card is handed over to officials in Mulhouse, eastern France, today

Paris’ incumbent mayor Anne Hidalgo pictured casting her vote in the municipal elections

A gloved officer pictured with a voters list in Cucq, western France, today

The risk from voting for the elderly was no greater ‘than going shopping’, insisted Jean-Francois Delfraissy, chairman of France’s coronavirus science council.

‘It is certain that many people will be dissuaded from voting,’ political historian Jean Garrigues of the University of Orleans told AFP.

Polls showed that young people – who are not at high risk of dying from COVID-19 – are most likely to hold it up as a reason not to vote.

Even if this is just a pretext for the politically apathetic, it could impact parties that young people are more likely to support – the Greens and the far-left France Unbowed, said Garrigues.

A shuttered cafe in Paris. None have opened today due to the nationwide lockdown

Cafe de Flore in Paris has also shut its doors today due to the country’s lockdown

A woman wears a face mask as she exits a polling booth in Paris today

A woman wears a mask as she heads towards a polling station in Paris today

A note posted in this McDonald’s window on Champs Elysee Avenue says it has closed due to the coronavirus outbreak

Older people, even though they are more motivated to vote, may end up staying away out of fear, thus robbing parties such as the right-wing Republicans or Macron’s centre-right Republic on the Move (LREM) of votes.

This means that the political repercussions of high voter abstention among the young and the old could cancel each other out, said Garrigues.

France was placed on lockdown last night as Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called the virus the ‘biggest health crisis in a century’. 

In a solemn TV address on Saturday evening, Mr Philippe said the indefinite shut down would apply to ‘all places that receive the public but which are not essential to the life of the country.’ 

Restaurants, some shops, cinemas and cafés will shut for the foreseeable future with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (pictured) calling it the ‘biggest health crisis in a century’

Mr Philippe also called on French people to reduce their travel, especially between towns. Pictured: a woman in a mask near the Eiffel Tower in Paris today

Public transport will remain open but Mr Philippe encouraged his citizens to limit their use.

Exceptions on France’s ban include supermarkets, pharmacies, banks and petrol stations. 

Mr Philippe added that his citizens will have to make tough sacrifices in the coming months to help stop the spread of the killer virus – which could cost the economy billions.  

‘I am conscious of the efforts and sacrifices that we are asking, but I have faith that the French people will have the capacity to overcome this serious moment,’ Philippe said.

Philippe said the government had been left with no choice but to take the decision because too many people were still out in the streets and not sufficiently applying measures that were recently announced. 

That, he said, was helping accelerate the spread of the virus.

‘I have decided to close all non-indispensable locations. We must absolutely limit our movements,’ he said.

France reported a sharp rise in cases on Saturday, from 3,661 to 4,499. It recorded 12 more deaths, bringing the toll to 91

Tourists wearing protective face masks visit Disneyland Paris amid the coronavirus outbreak across Europe

It follows President Emmanuel Macron appearing on national television on Thursday and saying the ‘national crisis’ meant all schools, colleges and universities will close from Monday

The ban is also likely to include ski hire shops, and other businesses linked to the country’s Alpine resorts, many of which are likely now to shut down too. 

It follows President Emmanuel Macron appearing on national television on Thursday and saying the ‘national crisis’ meant all schools, colleges and universities will close from Monday.

‘Despite our efforts, the virus is accelerating,’ Mr Macron said. ‘It will hit the most vulnerable people first and we are taking great efforts to increase massively the capacity in our hospitals.

Empty restaurants in a square in Nancy, northeastern France today

‘We have to prepare for the second wave, which will hit younger people. We have to prepare our emergency staff. We need to win time, but the priority is to protect the most vulnerable.

‘For our collective interest, from Monday and until further notice, nurseries, schools, colleges, high schools and universities will be closed.

‘Closed for a simple reason: our children and our youngest, according to scientists, are the ones who seem to spread the virus the fastest.’

Religious buildings would remain open but gatherings and ceremonies should be postponed. 

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