March 20, 2020 / 9:29 AM / 18 days ago

France says 130,000 of its nationals trying to return home

PARIS (Reuters) - France is trying to help repatriate 130,000 of its nationals stuck overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday.

A view shows the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

“The fundamental principle is that for the 130,000, we want to bring them back to the national territory, but we ask them to be calm and patient,” Le Drian told France Info radio, adding it would be up to them to pay for their return tickets.

Le Drian urged the more than 3.5 million long-term French expatriates to stay where they are. He said 17,000 people had already been brought back from Morocco since last Friday out of 20,000 stranded in the North African country.

Those returning to France would not automatically be placed in quarantine, he said.

France is seeing an almost 40% increase in cases and deaths each day. About 11,000 people are officially contaminated and 372 have died so far, forcing the government to introduce confinement measures for its 67 million people.

Le Drian warned the government was ready to toughen up restrictions to limit people’s movements if existing guidelines were not adhered to sufficiently.

He said the government was also in talks to buy masks and other equipment for health workers to compensate for the shortfalls in the country. France received 1 million masks from China on Thursday.

“In reality, they returned a lot of equipment that we had sent them, but for the rest the battle has just started. We need masks,” he said, adding there were talks with several countries, including China for their purchase.

When asked whether China could be economically strengthened by the crisis in the long-term and whether France and Europe needed to move away from its dependence on China, Le Drian said things would not be the same in the future.

“The world of tomorrow will not be same as the one that we knew before,” Le Drian said. “It is clear that in the future we won’t be able to delegate our security, health and food needs and our autonomy for essential needs to others. We will need to draw the lessons from this.”

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Potter

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