French cafés eye return to business as government prepares new lockdown easing

Cafes like this one in the fortified town of Carcassonne, in southern France, could be reoponening as early as next week.
Cafes like this one in the fortified town of Carcassonne, in southern France, could be reoponening as early as next week. © Lionel Bonaventure, AFP

Bars, cafés and restaurants in parts of France may soon be reopening as the government announces new measures to ease the coronavirus lockdown on Thursday, though businesses in Paris and other hard-hit areas will have to wait longer.

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Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will unveil the second phase of his plan to reopen the country's economy following a meeting with top cabinet members, after strict stay-at-home orders were lifted on May 11.

>> Watch PM Philippe's announcements live on FRANCE 24 at 5pm Paris time (GMT+2)

But while restaurants, bars and cafés in so-called "green" zones with limited Covid-19 cases could open on June 2, those in "red" zones including Paris and a large swathe of the northeast may have to wait until July, a government source said.

Cities will also be allowed to reopen parks and public gardens, though in red zones visitors will have to wear masks.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has urged the government to reopen parks for residents who have been cooped up for weeks, not least to avoid the mass gatherings witnessed on canals and esplanades as summer approaches.

Travel restrictions

The number of Covid-19 daily deaths has continued to decline across France, with 66 new fatalities reported Wednesday night, bringing the total to just under 28,600 since the outbreak began.

This could allow the government to lift restrictions on travelling, with residents currently required to stay within 100 kilometres of their homes, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said this week.

But face masks will remain mandatory on trains, metros and other public transport "so long as we do not have a treatment" against the new coronavirus, environment minister Elisabeth Borne said Wednesday.

Borne told Thursday's Paris Match magazine she also plans to triple government funds to encourage cycling to 60 million euros and avoid a surge in car use by people wary of public transport.

Tracing app

Parents of high school students are also waiting to learn if classes will resume at least partially in June, and if the all-important orals for the final-year baccalaureate exam will go ahead.

Although classes have resumed for some of the younger grades, in practice schools are taking in only a small fraction of students, often only a few days a week, in order to meet the strict hygiene and social distancing requirements.

Hoping to avert a second wave of Covid-19 cases, the government plans to introduce a “StopCovid“ contact tracing app for phones after it was approved by parliament late on Wednesday.

The issue of how to track coronavirus spread with mobile technology has sparked privacy concerns in several countries now lifting strict home confinement measures as they hope to kickstart their economies.

Earlier this week, the Insee national statistics agency said the French economy is on course to shrink by 20% in the second quarter from the previous three months, marking a sharp deterioration in the country’s recession.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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