France will make facial masks mandatory in public transport and high schools when it begins to loosen its blocking against coronaviruses on May 11, said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
Schools will gradually reopen, starting with kindergartens and primary schools.
Students between the ages of 11 and 15 must wear face masks.
She intervenes when Spain, hard hit, also presented its plan to end isolation, aiming at what its Prime Minister called “a new normal” by the end of June.
How will France reopen?
Non-essential stores and markets will reopen from May 11, but bars and restaurants will not.
Stores will have the right to ask buyers to wear masks and should make sure they stay within 1 meter (3 feet) of each other, said the Prime Minister.
In relief for many, the French will be able to go out again without a certificate confirming their intentions, and public gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed. The crèches will also reopen – but with a maximum of 10 children in each group.
France has one of the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in Europe, along with the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.
On Tuesday, the number of people who died with the virus increased from 367 to 23,660, the country’s health ministry said. 129,859 people were infected.
Hospital admissions and the number of intensive care patients have declined, however, giving rise to cautious optimism.
Speaking to Parliament, Philippe said the foreclosure had saved around 62,000 lives in France in a month, but it was time to relax measures to avoid an economic collapse.
“We will have to learn to live with the virus,” he said, until an effective vaccine or treatment is available.
He summarized France’s priorities like “protect, test, isolate”.
Parliament was to vote on the measures proposed by the government after a debate. Only 75 of the nearly 600 French deputies were admitted to the Chamber for reasons of social distancing, others voting by proxy.
Will the lock be permanently lifted?
Philippe stressed that France must take strict precautions to avoid a second wave of coronavirus infections.
“The risk of a second wave, which would hit a weakened hospital fabric, which would impose” confinement “, which would ruin the efforts and sacrifices made during these eight weeks, is a serious risk,” he said.
The lockout will not be relaxed on May 11 if new cases do not stay below 3,000 a day, he added.
France has seen around 2,162 new cases per day on average in the past two weeks.
The government has set a target of carrying out at least 700,000 coronavirus tests per week from May 11, the Prime Minister said, and will cover the cost of the tests.
“Once a person has tested positive, we will begin to identify and test all of the people, symptomatic or not, who have been in close contact with them. All of these contact cases will be tested and asked to isolate themselves, “he said.
Philippe said that, if possible, people should continue working from home after May 11.
French central planning is at its best in a crisis
As the Prime Minister said, never in history – not in times of war, occupation or illness – has France had to face such massive upheavals. And now, from the best civil servant brains in the country, comes an exit strategy that could well correspond to the disaster.
As always in hyper-rational France, the plan is built around numbers, categories and systems.
The key figure is 3,000. This is what the government estimates will be the number of daily infections in the coming weeks. By setting up local “brigades” of investigators to track the infection, they estimate that they will test 20 contacts per infection – thus 420,000 tests per week, which is well below planned capacity.
Those with the virus are expected to self-isolate, either at home with their families or in requisitioned hotels. And as for the rest of the population, life will resume very gradually.
Protection, test, insulation. This is the system. This is then itself conditioned by three imperatives: acceptance of the sustainability of the virus, progressive implementation and regional adaptation.
It always sounds clogged when a French technocrat outlines a plan. But sometimes it may be just what the country needs.
Who should wear masks?
Talking about the shortage of masks in France, Philippe said they would be widely available by May 11. He called on all companies to provide masks to their staff and said the government would help small businesses if necessary.
Masks will also be sold on the French Post website, and five million washable masks will be reserved each week for the most vulnerable.
From May 11, all people using public transport, including trams, trains or the metro, must wear a face mask.
This comes after Germany made it compulsory to wear the cloth mask on public transport and in shops in certain regions.
In schools, French kindergarten children will not be expected to wear masks unless they start showing symptoms during the school day. High school students (ages 11 to 15) should do so, however, and the government will make masks available to students who do not have access to them.
The classes will be no more than 15 students, said the Prime Minister.
Elementary schools will open on May 11. Schools in districts where the epidemic is more benign may be allowed to reopen from May 18, and high schools at the end of the month.
What will remain closed?
The Prime Minister noted that some regions of the country had experienced more serious epidemics than others, and said mayors and local authorities would be allowed to tailor the government’s strategy to their locality.
The framework for deciding which areas need a tighter form of easing will be locked on May 7, he said.
Some areas will be classified as “green” and others as “red” based on the number of new cases, their testing capacity and the pressure on local hospitals.
National restrictions that will remain in place include:
- The funeral will continue to be limited to 20 participants
- Churches and mosques will be open, but cannot hold ceremonies until June 2
- Beaches, bars, cinemas and restaurants will remain closed
- France’s two main football divisions, Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, will not resume this season