France says 130,000 citizens stuck abroad over virus restrictions

Tourist in mask takes a selfie outside the Louvre museum in Paris last month. (AP pic)

PARIS: Some 130,000 French citizens are currently stuck abroad because of measures to contain the coronavirus spread, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday, adding that the government is working to organise their return home.

“The toughest question involves those who were travelling abroad, on trips, mostly on holiday and who number around 130,000 across the planet,” Le Drian told France Info radio.

“Our operating principle is that we want to get these 130,000 back on national territory,” he said, while calling on people to remain calm and be patient.

The foreign ministry announced Thursday that it was working to obtain authorisation for exceptional commercial flights out of countries that have imposed travel restrictions to contain the virus outbreak.

It has also called on airlines to maintain flights towards France and to lower ticket prices for the emergency returns.

The government “will be particularly vigilant to make sure ticket prices are regulated and capped, so there won’t be any speculation in this matter,” Le Drian said.

The ministry has set up a website, sosuntoi.com (SOS Shelter), where people can request emergency lodgings from fellow citizens living abroad who have offered to take in stranded travellers.

Le Drian’s comments came as government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said it was “quite likely” that France’s stay-at-home order would have to be extended into April, beyond the 15 days announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.

But despite warnings of additional measures because many people are not strictly following the self-confinement rules, a full curfew “is not being considered for the time being,” Ndiaye told BFM television.

Macron, who said Thursday that too many people are taking the confinement measures “lightly,” is holding a new crisis management meeting with top officials Friday.