Tens of thousands of extra police and gendarmes are being posted across France to ensure people respect the coronavirus lockdown during what would traditionally be the grand départ for the Easter holidays on Friday.
Checkpoints are being set up on all major roads and motorways out of towns and cities with orders to turn back those attempting to break the rules.
Officials in areas popular with holidaymakers, or where there are high proportions of second homes, have also been ordered to carry out checks to ensure there is no sudden influx of visitors.
“The virus is not on holiday,” said the French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, in a televised address on Thursday evening. Philippe was echoing the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, who hours earlier warned: “Absolutely do not go on holiday during the lockdown period … People must remain confined. Any abuse will be punished.”
Laurent Nuñez, the transport minister, also issued stern instructions on Friday morning, saying an extra 60,000 police and gendarmes would join the 100,000 normally on duty in order to carry out “intense checks” on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“You cannot leave your home to go to a resort or a second home,” Nuñez told RTL radio. “There will be no leaving for holiday … There will be checks across the country. Considerable numbers of police and gendarmes will be put in place mostly checking on the ground but also from the air.”
Nuñez said those who tried to escape the lockdown could face more than fines and warned “those who want to challenge the restrictions” repeatedly would be committing a crime.
“After three infractions – that’s to say from the fourth time of not respecting the confinement – it becomes a crime,” he said. “This is not a road traffic misdemeanour, it’s the non respect of a regulation.”
France’s two-week Easter holiday begins on Friday evening and is staggered over four weeks in three different zones; the first zone includes Paris and Toulouse. Police are also being sent to railway stations and airports, but services have been decimated during the lockdown.
Paris’s police chief, Didier Lallement, said 8,277 extra “officers and gendarmes” would be on duty to stop “those who persist in their stupid plans”. He told them: “We’ll be there when you leave, during the journey and when you arrive.”
Since the French lockdown began on 17 March, 5.8 million people have been stopped and asked for papers showing they are authorised to be away from home, Castaner said. About 359,000 fines have been issued.