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France will not age-discriminate in Covid-19 lockdown lift, govt says in about-turn

Residents are seen at the La Weiss retirement home (EHPAD - Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) in Kaysersberg, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in France, April 16, 2020. Picture taken April 16, 2020.
Residents are seen at the La Weiss retirement home (EHPAD - Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) in Kaysersberg, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in France, April 16, 2020. Picture taken April 16, 2020. © Christian Hartmann, Reuters

After Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday that France will reverse its coronavirus lockdown on May 11, the Élysée Palace announced on Friday evening that confinement measures will be lifted for the elderly along with the rest of the population – despite the government’s chief scientific adviser saying on Wednesday that people aged “over 65 or 70” should stay at home.

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Ahead of a public address by France’s prime minister and health minister on Sunday – when they are expected to detail how the country will move to the post-lockdown stage – the presidential office said that quarantines will be lifted for all, with “no discrimination” between age groups, adding that people are expected to take “responsibility” in deciding how to protect themselves from Covid-19.

But that contradicted a previous message from the government’s chief scientific adviser Jean-François Delfraissy, who said on Wednesday that people aged over “65 or 70” should remain confined. This reinforced his statement on April 13: “We will ask the most vulnerable – the elderly, those with chronic illnesses and severe disabilities – to stay under lockdown after May 11, at least to start with.”

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Speaking to French radio station RTL on Saturday, Delfraissy said he was misunderstood, insisting that he “wanted to say” that “a certain number of people in France will still be at risk after the lockdown ends” – adding that it’s up to them decide what steps to take after May 11.

The elderly are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus in France and across the globe. More than 7,000 people in French nursing homes and social care centres have succumbed to Covid-19. In light of the risk the virus continues to pose to old people and those with long-term health conditions, the EU has argued that protections should stay in place for them for “longer”.

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The situation for the elderly is not the only bone of contention ahead of May 11. The Macron government also plans to send children back to school on that date – drawing the ire of one of its most prominent left-wing opponents: “I don’t see how we can reopen schools on May 11,” Lille Mayor Martine Aubry said on Friday.

Usually there are “around 23 or 24 children in a class”, she noted, arguing that “I don’t see how we can have them there in the classroom while maintaining social distancing rules”.

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(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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