France begins 'Phase II' of easing lockdown measures as coronavirus abates
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France began a second phase of easing lockdown rules on Tuesday as official figures show the novel coronavirus outbreak continuing to diminish in the country following an initial loosening of restrictions that began on May 11.
The new measures include the reopening of cafés and restaurants in so-called green zones, where the virus is least actively circulating. Parks and restaurant terraces alone will reopen in Paris, which is considered an orange zone, and restrictions will be lifted on travel beyond the current 100km-radius restriction.
"Freedom will finally become the rule and constraint the exception," Prime Minister Édouard Philippe told reporters last Thursday during a press conference presenting the new rules for "Phase II" of easing the lockdown (a process known as "déconfinement" in France).
More than 28,000 people have died in France as a result of Covid-19, although the toll's climb has slowed markedly. The hospital death toll from the virus rose by 31 on Monday to 18,506, a 12th consecutive day of increases below 100. The number of coronavirus-infected patients in intensive care (1,302 on Monday) has returned nearly to levels last seen on March 20. Overall, more than 14,000 coronavirus patients remain in hospital.
No more 'red zones'
There is no more red to be found on France's coronavirus colour map. A previous map used to illustrate the easing of initial lockdown measures on May 11 showed a wide swath of the country's northeast including Pairs in red, denoting areas where the novel coronavirus was actively circulating, as opposed to green areas where it was not.
Today, only three territories – Île-de-France, which represents the greater Paris area, as well as overseas territories Mayotte in the Indian Ocean and French Guiana neighbouring Brazil – are highlighted in orange, signifying the lockdown easing there over the next three weeks will be "a little more prudent".
Parks and gardens reopening
After a highly publicised, weeks-long dispute between Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the French government, parks and gardens in the capital began reopening over the weekend. Hidalgo had called their continued closure a "public health" issue, underlining the paradox of allowing Parisians to use the métro and lounge on Seine quaysides while barring access to public green spaces.
Eating and drinking out
Cafés, bars and restaurants, which were shuttered across the country at midnight on March 14 amid the outbreak, are authorised to reopen to customers from Tuesday with tables spaced at least one metre apart.
Conditions will be more strict, however, in orange zones, where only outdoor terraces will be available to seat customers. Paris has pledged to allow businesses to encroach on sidewalks, streets and parking spaces accordingly.
More schools reopening
Middle schools, which remained closed in red zones after the initial lockdown easing, are permitted to reopen across the country from Tuesday. High schools, which had so far remained closed nationwide, will also begin reopening their doors. A strict health protocol remains in place for schools as children return amid the continuing epidemic, meaning numbers returning per class on any given day remain considerably limited.
The national rail service SNCF will have its full slate of tickets available for sale as of mid-June, France's minister of Transport announced Sunday. TGV trains had seen every other seat made unavailable in order to maintain social distancing but those seating restrictions will now be dropped, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told BFMTV.
Public transportation in the dense and still orange greater Paris area remains restricted during the rush hour, until "at least June 22", to passengers with a certificate from their employers justifying travel.
Gatherings of more than 10 people remain off-limits in public spaces.
The StopCovid smartphone application will be available starting Tuesday. The bluetooth-based app will allow users to be informed if they have been in close and sustained contact (less than one metre for more than 15 minutes) with someone infected by coronavirus.
Culture and sport
Swimming pools, gyms, amusement parks, theatres and concert halls are allowed to reopen starting Tuesday in green zones and from June 22 in orange zones.
Cinemas will be permitted to reopen across the country on June 22.
Border restrictions remain in place until June 15, but France is in favour of reopening them from then "should the health situation permit doing so, without a quarantine period for travellers arriving from European countries".
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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