The government has set a target of performing at least 700,000 tests per week. Once a person tests positive, tracing begins to identify, test and isolate all those who have been in close contact with the individual, said Edouard Philippe.
“When we end the lockdown, we will have the capacity to carry out a massive intensification of testing,” he said in a speech to parliament, defending government management of the crisis.
France has performed far fewer tests – around 200,000 per week – than the average for OECD countries and less than a third of Germany compared to its size.
Philippe said the foreclosure had saved tens of thousands of lives, but the time had come to ease unprecedented peacetime restrictions and save a plummeting economy.
However, he warned that the infection rate would increase if France moved too quickly and people became complacent.
“We are at the edge of the knife. I have to choose between bad decisions, “he said, shortly before Parliament voted in favor of his plans.
“We must protect the French people without paralyzing France to the point that it is collapsing. A little too carefree and the epidemic takes off again. Too much caution and the whole country loops. “
Nearly 24,000 people died in the pandemic in France, the fifth global death toll after the United States, Italy, Spain and Britain.
The number in the hospital in France with COVID-19, the contagious lung disease caused by the new coronavirus, decreased daily for two weeks, while the number of patients in intensive care decreased for 19 consecutive days.
From May 11, schools will gradually reopen and businesses will be free to resume their activities, said Philippe. Restaurants, cafes and beaches will remain closed until at least June, while professional sports will be suspended until September.
The government was ready to slow or delay the lockdown if the infection rate skyrocketed, he said, with administrative departments divided into “red” and “green” zones.
The schedule was dependent on the number of new coronavirus infections remaining below 3,000 per day, said the Prime Minister.
“If the indicators are not good enough, we will not solve the lockdown on May 11, or we will do it more strictly,” he added.
The number of new confirmed cases fell below 3,000 on April 15. In the past seven days, the average number of new cases per day has been around 1,500.
“We have to learn to live with COVID-19 and to protect ourselves from it,” said Philippe.
France’s plan to ease the lockdown reflects a balancing act, with the government wishing to ease the growing frustration of people locked in their homes since mid-March without increasing the risk of a second wave of infections.
Philippe said France had based its testing protocols on the changing advice of scientists, including the decision to only test people in the hospital once the crisis response has reached its highest level.
” That’s what we did. Times have changed, as has the doctrine of the World Health Organization, “he said.
These remarks angered medical professionals who, for several weeks after the outbreak of the epidemic, complained about the lack of protective equipment and fought to save lives as the epidemic overwhelmed hospitals. .
“He needed to apologize. It did not do so and instead blamed the scientists, “said Edouard Jean-Baptiste, a general practitioner east of Paris.
Desirous of helping workers return to work, Philippe said that nursery and primary schools nationwide would reopen from May 11 and secondary schools from May 18 in areas with high infection rates low. Class sizes will be limited to 15 students and high school students will be required to wear masks.
If possible, companies should encourage remote working after May 11 and until the end of the month, when the release of the lock would be reviewed. Anyone traveling by public transport or taxi should also wear a mask.
However, lawmakers and opposition experts have questioned the practicalities of reopening schools, the widespread use of public transportation and the harsh measures that will continue to affect areas less affected by the virus.
(Reporting by Richard Lough, Michel Rose, John Irish, Matthieu Protard and Leigh Thomas; Writing by Richard Lough Editing by Angus MacSwan, Alison Williams, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jonathan Oatis)