Covid-19: French PM warns of no immediate return to normality

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe spoke at Sunday’s Covid-19 briefing, on April 19, 2020.
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe spoke at Sunday’s Covid-19 briefing, on April 19, 2020. Thibault Camus POOL/AFP

France’s Prime Minister Édouard Philippe on Sunday said that although the country looks to be on track to lift its near two-month coronavirus lockdown as planned on May 11, the country's return to normality would be gradual and slow.

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France went into a nationwide lockdown on March 17 in a bid to halt the spread of the deadly virus, which has so far claimed a total of 19,718 French lives since the epidemic started.

On Sunday, however, France reported just 395 new coronavirus deaths – the lowest such toll in the country since March 23 – and the number of people in hospital fell for the fifth day in a row, indicating that the worst might be over. But Philippe warned Sunday that Covid-19 will remain a threat for months after the lockdown is lifted.

“Our life from May 11 will not be like our life before, not immediately, and probably not for a long time,” he said. "We'll have to learn to live with the virus."

People will “probably” be required to wear masks on public transport as an infection prevention measure from that date, he said, and added that those who can work from home should continue to do so as far as possible.

He also said cafes and restaurants in France will remain shuttered for the time being, and that the businesses that will be open, such as supermarkets, will have to ensure measures are in place enabling people to respect the one-metre safety distance from one another. They may also be expected to provide virus-killing hand sanitising gel to all customers.

Schools will reopen bit by bit, he said, but the details have yet to be hashed out.

“To imagine that, because the situation has stopped worsening and is starting to improve, the epidemic is behind us, would be a mistake,” said Philippe, stressing that people were still dying every day.

It would, for example, be “unreasonable” for people to think of taking a foreign trip in the near future, Philippe said.

Health Minister Olivier Véran said the government was working on making 500,000 coronavirus tests possible per week for people who show symptoms and those they had been in contact with – up from the current 150,000 weekly.

People who test positive will be placed in isolation.

’Brutal’ economic downturn coming

Philippe reiterated that the economic crisis that will result from lockdown measures taken to fight the epidemic would be ”brutal”.

France expects its worse recession in 2020 since the end of World War II, with economic activity down 36 percent since the lockdown started.

But economic life cannot resume until the virus has stopped circulating among the population and hospitals’ capacity to treat the seriously ill is restored, the prime minister said.

And even when it does, people will have to live differently – continuing to avoid physical proximity to others.

”Not respecting the barrier measures literally exposes us to a resumption of the epidemic,” Philippe warned.

The government will unveil a more detailed plan on the lifting of the lockdown in the next two weeks.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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