In May Day address, Macron warns that life won't return to 'normal' after lockdown ends

French President Emmanuel Macron takes part at the traditional Lily of the valley ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 1, 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron takes part at the traditional Lily of the valley ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 1, 2020. © Alain Jocard, AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Friday that the end of the national lockdown on May 11 would only be a first step as France looks to pull out of the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Traditional Labour Day protests that usually see thousands of demonstrators on streets were cancelled this year due to the virus outbreak that has killed more than 24,000 people across France.

"May 11 will not be the passage to normal life. There will be a recovery that will need to be reorganised," Macron said in a speech at the presidential palace after a meeting with horticulturists.

"There will be several phases and May 11 will be one of them," the president added.

Unions organised online activities for Labour Day, and asked people to bang pans and put out banners on their balconies to mark the day. Police disbanded a small protest in central Paris.

It was in stark contrast to this time last year when tens of thousands of labour union and "yellow vest" protesters were on the streets across France demonstrating against Macron's policies.

The protests were marred after dozens of masked and hooded anarchists clashed with riot police.

Macron, in a message on his Twitter account, lauded the traditional parades and French workers, urging unity and solidarity during these tough times.

But highlighting the rocky path ahead, union officials and some opposition leaders were quick to underscore their concerns amid the crisis.

"Even if today we are confined, our demands are not," Yves Veyrier, head of the Force Ouvrière union, told France Inter radio.

"This is an opportunity to bear the social demands that we have been defending for a long time and that the crisis has highlighted," added Philippe Martinez, the general secretary of umbrella trade union CGT.

Le Pen lays wreath at Joan of Arc statue

Despite the lockdown, far-right leader Marine Le Pen pressed ahead with her party's annual May 1 tradition of honouring mediaeval heroine Joan of Arc by laying a wreath at the golden statue of the 15th century warrior in central Paris.

"I've never said I had doubts about the confinement. I just said that complete confinement was the solution when we failed to prevent the epidemic," Le Pen, wearing a mask, told reporters.

"A successful end to the lockdown is with tests for everybody, masks for everybody and I am opposed to schools opening before September," she added.

In a controversial move, Macron's government has decided that schools will gradually reopen from May 11, despite the reservations expressed by its scientific advisors.

Most businesses will also be free to resume operations from May 11, although the government has urged companies to allow staff to continue working from home when possible.

The government has said it is prepared to slow or delay the unwinding of the lockdown if the virus infection rate spikes markedly higher, with administrative departments divided into 'red' and 'green' zones.

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Opposition lawmakers and some experts have questioned the wisdom of allowing commuters back onto public transport in areas hard-hit by the virus, such as the Paris region, while also calling for restrictions to be lifted in areas less affected.

Question marks have also been raised about the government's ability to reach its target of 700,000 Covid-19 tests by May 11, their implementation and the possible isolation of people who tested positive for the illness.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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