France says people must stay home to slow spread of virus

European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference after a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 9, 2020. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Brussels on Monday for talks with European Union officials amid a standoff between Ankara and Brussels over sharing of responsibility for refugees and migrants. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference after a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, March 9, 2020. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Brussels on Monday for talks with European Union officials amid a standoff between Ankara and Brussels over sharing of responsibility for refugees and migrants. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BRUSSELS – France said Monday that it would follow other European countries in confining residents mostly to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the European Union considered closing its external borders to foreign travelers to impede infections.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that starting on Tuesday, people would be allowed to leave the place they live only for necessary activities such as shopping for food, going to work or taking a walk.

"From tomorrow at noon and for at least 15 days, our trips will be greatly reduced" Macron said in a televised address.

Macron said the government would provide further details, but he told the French people that everyone should stay at home, go out just for the "bare essentials" and commute to work only if working from home isn't feasible.

Anyone caught violating the new measures will be punished, he said.

The restrictions appeared to put France under a lockdown similar to the ones imposed last week in Italy and Spain in response to the virus. While the restrictions are in effect, residential gatherings with family and friends will be prohibited, the president said.

“We are at war,” Macron said repeatedly in his address.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner subsequently specified that all people circulating on France's streets will have to justify, upon request, why they were out and about. Forms stating the purpose of “essential” outside travel — such as going to the bakery to buy a baguette — will be available for downloading, Castaner said.