France will ease the lockdown to avoid an economic “collapse”

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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday presented plans to gradually ease the country’s foreclosure against coronaviruses, in effect since March 17, to avoid the risk of economic collapse.

Businesses could reopen from May 11, with the exception of cafes, restaurants and large meeting places such as large museums and cinemas, although telework should be continued as much as possible for at least first three weeks, he said.

Local public transport will be largely restored, with the Paris metro and buses running at 70% of their normal capacity, although it is planned to avoid congestion during peak hours by encouraging companies to spread out working hours. Passengers should wear face masks. Long distance trips will remain reserved for those who have an urgent professional or family activity.

Schools will gradually reopen, starting with kindergartens and elementary schools and attendance according to parental agreement, and the class size will be limited to 15.

However, the end of the lockout varies from place to place, said Philippe. Departments would be labeled “red” or “green” on May 7 for the proposed relaxation of restrictions four days later depending on the local number of new cases as well as the ability to test and admit patients to the hospital.

Philippe said the beaches will remain closed until June 1 and that the 2019-2020 professional football season will not resume.

“We must protect the French without immobilizing the country to the point of collapse,” said Philippe at the National Assembly in Paris. “A little too carefree and the epidemic will resume; a little too careful and the whole country will be stuck. “

More than 23,000 deaths due to Covid-19 have been recorded in hospitals and retirement homes in France since early March.

“We have never experienced such a situation in the history of our country,” said Mr. Philippe. “Not in wars, not during the occupation [during the second world war], not in previous epidemics. The country has never been confined as it is today. “

Prime Minister said prolonged shutdown of entire sectors of the economy, as well as education disruptions, border closures and extreme restrictions on freedom of movement “would mean not only painful inconvenience to the country of confinement but also in reality the risk of collapse much more serious ”.

Relaxation of the lock depended on a triple strategy of “protection, testing and isolation,” said Philippe.

France has struggled to provide enough masks for its health workers and the general population, a problem the Prime Minister admitted to having aroused “French misunderstanding and anger”.

But he said the government is now buying 100m of surgical masks a week for health workers and has promised there will be enough washable basic masks for the general population by May 11.

Tests for the virus were also rare at the start of the crisis in France, but the government has said that the goal is to have the capacity to perform 700,000 tests per week by May 11, to ensure that infected people and their contacts can be identified. then quarantined.

Addressing an assembly of only 75 deputies in the chamber, the others participating remotely in accordance with the rules of social distancing, Mr. Philippe warned that if the number of new Covid-19 cases does not continue to fall as expected “we will not end the lockdown on May 11, or we will do it with tighter controls. ”

The message was echoed by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa when he announced on Tuesday that the country’s state of emergency would end on May 3. “The end of the state of emergency does not mean that the virus has stopped spreading or that we are no longer in need of containment measures. “

António Costa, Portuguese Prime Minister, said that social distancing and other individual protection measures would remain in place.

Additional reporting by Peter Wise

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