“We must learn to live with the virus”.
These were the words of French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe as he announced the country’s plan for lifting its lockdown.
France has been on a strict lockdown since March 17. More than 23,600 people have died from COVID-19 in the country, at the time of writing.
Here’s are the broad lines of the French lockdown exit plan:
Lockdown saved 62,000 people
“Never in the history of our country have we known such a situation, not during the wars, nor during the occupation,” Philippe said.
He added, citing a study, that confinement measures had saved 62,000 lives a month but stressed that the risk of a second wave is “serious”.
He urged French people to not relax their efforts and to continue to adhere to strict social distancing rules, warning that if indicators, including the number of cases and hospitalizations, are not down to where they ought to be by May 11, the government may postpone easing restrictions.
The Prime Minister also stressed that taking too long to lift restrictions could have “deleterious effects”, especially on the economy.
“We must protect the French without immobilising France to the point of collapse,” he said, describing exiting the lockdown as walking “a delicate ridgeline”.
“A little too much carelessness and the epidemic will start again, a little too much prudence and the whole country will sink. The objective of the strategy I have just set out is to allow us to hold this ridgeline,” he went on.
Easing of restrictions won’t be uniform
Philippe said that as “the circulation of the virus is not uniform”, the lifting of restrictions won’t be either.
As such, the areas most impacted by the pandemic — such as the east of the country and the wider Paris region — may have to contend with restrictions that other parts of the country may be able to lift.
The first phase of “de-confinement” will last three weeks and run until June 2, at which point the government will announce further measures depending on how the pandemic is evolving.
Testing and face masks
According to the Prime Minister, the country will have enough face masks when restrictions start to be lifted on May 11.
He said that the country is currently receiving 100 million surgical masks a week and that an additional 20 million washable masks will be delivered before May 11.
The general public will be able to buy them in pharmacies and supermarkets as well as on a newly-created online platform managed by the postal service.
He also announced that testing capacity will be ramped up to 700,000 a week from May 11.
What happens for businesses?
Most businesses are allowed to reopen from May 11 but cafés, bars and restaurants are to remain shut for longer.
Markets and shopping centres can also resume work but local authorities have the power to rule out reopening if they deem it necessary.
The Prime Minister also called for employees to continue working remotely if possible. Companies who cannot operate by teleworking have been urged to set up shifts so that workers are not all together at the same time.
When do schools reopen?
Not all schools will reopen at the same time. Pre-schools and primary schools can reopen their doors on May 11 but secondary education will only resume for some on May 18 with high schools unlikely to restart until the beginning of June.
Schools will have to adapt to respect some rules including no more than 15 pupils per class.
On the issue of face masks, they will be proscribed from pre-school where children are less likely to be able to use them properly but will be mandatory for pupils in secondary education.
Travelling is ‘discouraged’
Until now, French residents were only allowed to travel to their local convenience store, pharmacies or health facilities provided they justified the trip in a form.
From May 11, the form will no longer be needed and car trips of up to 100 kms will be allowed. Anything above that threshold will still require justification.
Cross-country travel will remain restricted with trains running a reduced service. Public transport will also run on a reduced capacity and face masks will be mandatory when using them.
No festivals or professional football
Cinemas, theatres, museums and concert halls will, like cafés, bars and restaurants, remain closed on May 11.
Beaches will remain inaccessible until June 1 while religious services are unlikely to resume until June 2.
Private and public gatherings will be restricted to 10 people and gatherings of more than 5,000 people — including festivals and sporting events — will not resume until September.
“The 2019-2020 season of professional sports, especially football, will not be able to resume,” Philippe said.