Coronavirus: French students promised one euro lockdown meals

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image copyrightReuters
image caption"You need to take care of each other," President Macron told students in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised all university students two meals a day for one euro (88p; $1.21) to help them cope during lockdown.

"We must be able to provide better support," he said at a meeting with students in Paris on Thursday.

It follows protests in which students called for more help to tackle loneliness and financial problems.

France is currently under a 18:00-06:00 curfew, and coronavirus cases have risen steadily in recent weeks.

Mr Macron, who addressed students at Paris-Saclay university, also said the government would provide subsidies to pay for counselling and other mental health services.

The subsidies would take the form of a voucher which students can redeem if they feel the need to talk to a mental health professional, the president said.

He added that the discounted meals would be available from university canteens and other nearby outlets that are providing takeaways.

"We remain in a period of uncertainty," Mr Macron said. "We will have a second semester that will have the virus and a lot of constraints."

"You need to take care of each other," he added.

The president spoke a day after students took to the streets to demand more attention from the government. They sought to raise awareness of the rising mental health problems many say they are suffering as a result of the pandemic.

A combination of isolation, inactivity and concerns about the job market has left many students close to breakdown, according to university psychologists.

image copyrightRyan Kennedy
image captionRyan Kennedy says the French government is failing to take student issues seriously

"I've lived alone in a studio apartment since September - it's the first time I've ever lived alone," Ryan Kennedy, a 19-year-old law student in Montpellier, told the BBC.

He added: "Not a day goes by without a friend calling me because they're struggling with their mental health."

Heïdi Soupault, a political science student from Strasbourg, sent a letter to Mr Macron last week. "I no longer have dreams," she said. "If we have no hope or prospects for the future at 19, what do we have left?"

media caption"Our mental health goes downhill in situations like this."

Many of the protesting students are calling for a return to face-to-face teaching. Some first-year students will be able to return to the classroom from 25 January.

But, on Thursday, Mr Macron said all students should be allowed on campus once a week providing certain measures are in place.

"Given what your generation has already gone through, we cannot but take into account your right to some on-site presence, to exchange with your teachers, and to meet with other students," he said.

France has had a curfew in place since December, but this was tightened on 16 January to the current hours of 18:00-06:00.

Bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and ski resorts remain shut. Schools, however, are open with extra testing in place.

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