Key points of France’s strategy for lifting its nationwide Covid-19 lockdown
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has unveiled a strategy for bringing an end to the nationwide lockdown that is expected to come into force on May 11 provided certain key criteria are met.
Compulsory masks, increased testing, a phased reopening of schools and limiting movement between regions: May 11 will not mean an instant return to normal life in France.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe outlined his plan to start reopening the country on Tuesday, April 28, at the National Assembly (lower house). The proposal includes introducing new methods of social distancing on public transport, limiting travel within France and a gradual reopening of schools. The French will also be able to start socialising again as long as gatherings are kept to a maximum of 10 people. But the worlds of culture and sport will remain in turmoil at least until September.
"We will have to learn to live with the virus," Philippe said, until a vaccine or effective treatment is available.
Masks, masks and more masks
It will be compulsory to wear masks on all public transport, in taxis and hired cars such as Uber, and on school buses.
France, like many other countries, has experienced a shortage of masks, even accusing the United States of requisitioning a French order for masks made in China for itself. But the PM promised that there will be "a sufficient supply of masks in the country to cope with its needs by May 11".
Testing, identifying and isolating Covid-19 patients
Testing for Covid-19 remains a problem in France, with an insufficient number of tests making tracking and isolating those with the virus impossible.
Our aim is "to carry out at least 700,000 tests per week by May 11" with costs fully covered by the public health system, the prime minister said.
"As soon as a person has tested positive, we will begin identifying and testing everyone who has had close contact with them, whether they are symptomatic or not. All these contacts will then be tested and will be asked to isolate themselves given the uncertainties about the virus’s incubation period," said Philippe.
Hotels will be requisitioned to accommodate people who need to be kept in isolation if this is not possible at their homes, he added.
Colour-coded end to lockdown
The government will also differentiate between "green" departments, where lockdown measures will be widely eased, and "red" ones, where stricter measures will remain in place.
To this end, three criteria will be used to determine which areas remain problematic, namely where "the circulation of the virus remains active", where "hospital resuscitation capacities are stretched" and where the "local system of testing and detecting contact cases is not sufficiently in place".
For those over 65 years of age, Philippe called for continuing restrictions on their contacts and outings even after May 11. There will be no official limits, but visits and excursions by older people will have to be "carefully managed", he said.
Fewer trains, every other seat in the metro
According to Philippe, it will be possible to leave home without a permission slip (completed online and downloaded for each outing) as of May 11 except for journeys of more than 100 kms, which will only be allowed “for exceptional family or professional reasons".
Public transport between regions will also be reduced to ensure people comply and advanced reservation will be compulsory.
In the Paris metro, capacity will be reduced to about 70 percent for at least three weeks after May 11. Philippe says only "one seat out of two" will be in use and platforms will be marked to encourage social distancing and the flow of passengers will be reduced for rush hour.
Working from home
Philippe said he insists that companies should continue allowing people to work from home "wherever possible, at least for the next three weeks".
Businesses will reopen but not restaurants, bars or cafés
Shops will be allowed to reopen on May 11 but shops will have the discretion of making mask-wearing obligatory for all staff and customers.
Bars, restaurants and cafés will remain closed, with the government promising to make a decision at the end of May as to whether they can reopen after June 2.
Gradual reopening of schools
French children can begin returning to pre-school and primary school classes from May 11 on a voluntary basis and with classes restricted to 15 pupils. Masks will be obligatory for all students and staff in secondary schools as well as for the teachers of very young children, who are too young to wear masks themselves.
Nurseries will also reopen from May 11 with a maximum of 10 children per centre. The government has asked people who manage these facilities to give priority to working couples who cannot work from home and to single-parent families, as well as to the children of healthcare workers and teachers.
Secondary schools will be able to reopen from May 18, "but only in departments where the virus circulation is very low", said Philippe. He will decide at the end of May if they will reopen lycées (the schools for final year students) at the start of June.
Weddings and funerals remain limited
Funeral ceremonies will have a new limit of 20 people, an increase from the limit of just 10 people currently allowed to attend. Cemeteries will also reopen on May 11.
Places of worship will remain open, said Philippe, but religious ceremonies, such as weddings and baptisms, will not be allowed before June 2. He added that it is preferable to postpone weddings.
Little change for sport and culture
No events with more than 5,000 participants can be held before September, said Philippe. Major sporting and cultural events, especially festivals and trade shows, will have to be cancelled or postponed.
Cinemas, theatres, large museums and concert halls will remain closed after May 11, but some small museums and libraries will be allowed to reopen.
There is no way for professional sports to resume this season, notably football, Philippe said, no doubt to the disappointment of fans worldwide.
But there was even more bad news for those hoping for some summer fun. Beaches, which have been closed since the start of the lockdown, will remain "inaccessible to the public at least until June 1", said Philippe.
This article has been translated from the original in French.
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