PARIS — No one knows how long the coronavirus crisis will last, French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday, and warned that defeating it would likely require an overhaul of how Western economies function.
“What no one is able to say today is how long we’ll have to keep this reduction of social contacts,” Macron said while visiting the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where researchers came up with a test for coronavirus and are working to develop treatments and a vaccine. “We don’t know how many waves we’re going to have and how the virus is going to behave and how we will absorb it.”
Macron is the first G7 leader to admit so explicitly how little information decision-makers and scientists have about the coronavirus or the profound effects it will have on the global economic system, as leaders try to strike a balance between locking down their countries to curb the spread of the virus and keeping their economies afloat.
“We are living through a profoundly new period, that forces us to ask ourselves questions we haven’t asked ourselves [about things] like supply and production chains,” Macron said.
The disruption of global supply routes after China was forced into lockdown to control its coronavirus outbreak in January, and the ripple effect since other countries have followed suit, has highlighted how reliant Europe has become on external sources and revived a debate about the need to repatriate some production capabilities.
Macron’s exhortation to continue economic activity caused some confusion as many people still required to go to work have started expressing concern for their health.
Leaders have grappled with asking people to stay home and avoid human contact as much as possible in an effort to curb the exponential spread of the virus, while also avoiding bringing their economies to a complete halt.
“We must continue to produce and keep the country running,” Macron said. “We are going to change our habits, but everything can’t stop … we must take the time to organize ourselves, and see what is adaptable.”
While some white-collar sectors have been able to adjust to working remotely, significant parts of the economy require on-site presence to continue running, including farming, factories, bakeries and garbage collection.
Earlier in the day, Macron held a videoconference call with economic stakeholders to take stock of the challenges they are facing since he ordered a nationwide lockdown, and discuss government support measures to keep the economy going.
“We must tell our citizens to keep their distance … and we must [also] continue economic life, because it would be impossible to live, even confined, to treat the sick if we don’t continue economic activity,” Macron said at the beginning of the meeting.
Macron’s exhortation to continue economic activity caused some confusion as many people still required to go to work have started expressing concern for their health in light of the epidemic.
But Macron said it all hinged on properly applying social distancing and hygiene rules.
“We have to organize work and production in a way to minimize contact as much as possible,” he said. “There are new rules: Those who can stay at home, stay at home. When we can work remotely, we work remotely. We reorganize. And everything we can do without, we do without. So it’s a change in sociability, which is very hard, I know the kinds of sacrifices we are asking people to make, but it doesn’t mean stopping everything.”
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