THOUSANDS of Parisians caused huge traffic jams last night as they fled the city ahead of France’s new national lockdown.
Footage posted on Twitter shows tens of thousands of cars leaving the French capital to avoid the 9pm curfew and the strict shutdown which came into force at midnight.
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The streets of Paris were lit up with flashing car lights and the sounds of horns as the fleeing locals created “hundreds of miles” of gridlock.
Others were determined to make a night of it and spend the last few hours before the lockdown to see friends and family ahead of bars and restaurants being closed.
Supermarket shelves were also emptied as people went out panic-buying to stock up on food supplies – particularly items like pasta and toilet roll – ready for the month-long confinement.
Hairdressers were also doing a brisk trade as people queued up to get a trim.
Office workers were also seen moving equipment to their cars and trains as they got ready to work from home.
President Emmanuel Macron imposed almost five weeks of stricter measures from Friday as he warned France was being “overwhelmed” by a second wave.
France’s second national lockdown will see bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses close and people banned from travelling to different regions.
Residents can only leave home for essential work, exercise, to go food shopping or for medical reasons, but schools and workplaces will remain open.
People must use official passes to leave their homes, as they had to when March’s lockdown was imposed, Mr Macron said.
In a stark TV address to the nation, the French President warned: “The virus is circulating in France at a speed that even the most pessimistic forecasts had not anticipated.
“We are all overwhelmed by a second wave which we know will arguably be tougher and more deadly than the first.”
The new lockdown, which will run until December 1, will be reviewed every two weeks.
It comes after 527 more deaths were recorded in France, the highest daily death toll since April, with 33,417 new confirmed cases in 24 hours.
Under France’s new measures visits to care homes – which were banned during the country’s previous two-month lockdown – will still be allowed.
Mr Macron added: “If we do not put a brutal brake on contamination today, our hospitals will quickly become overwhelmed.
“We will never let hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens die. These are not our values.”
Meanwhile, the EU’s top adviser on the pandemic warned most of the continent will have to go back into some form of lockdown.
Professor Peter Piot said people had “relaxed too much” on social distancing measures like mask wearing and now “we’re paying a high price”.
And he warned if current restrictions are eased too soon Europe may face “a third wave with maybe even more deaths”.
Brussels boss Ursula von der Leyen admitted Christmas will be “different” but said “a lot depends on behaviour from each individual in the next few weeks”.
Mrs Merkel signed off on a second lockdown for all of November after an emergency meeting with state premiers from across Germany.
She admitted: “We are now at a point where, on average nationally, we no longer know where 75 per cent of infections come from.”
Under the measures, due to come in on Monday morning, people will be restricted to meeting members of just one other household in public.
Bars, restaurants, gyms, and cultural venues will be ordered to close and hotels can only stay open for non-tourism related stays.
Schools and nurseries will be allowed to stay open as will shops so long as they impose hygiene measures and limit customer numbers.
The plan says: “Families and friends should be able to meet each other even under Corona conditions during the Christmas season.”
In France, Mr Macron ordered bars, restaurants, and secondary schools to shutter as of midnight on Thursday.
In France, schools and key public services were given a reprieve after doctors warned hospitals are just days from being overrun.
Europe is being ravaged by a second wave of the virus that experts are warning will be worse than the first.
Authorities in Belgium, which has the highest case rate in the EU, are also eyeing a second national lockdown as early as this weekend.
Top epidemiologist Pierre Van Damme warned if they don’t act the health system is set to “collapse within 10 days”.
And a partial lockdown in the neighbouring Netherlands, which shuttered bars and restaurants a fortnight ago, is due to last until at least December.
Spain has declared a state of emergency stretching until next spring and a curfew in Italy, including closing restaurants at 6pm, has sparked riots.