France will unveil on Tuesday its intention to gradually lift a six-week blockade credited with verifying the coronavirus epidemic, likely allowing schools to reopen even if restaurants and cafes remain closed.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will detail the government’s roadmap in a speech to Parliament from 1:00 p.m. GMT, crossing a fine line between restarting a crisis economy while avoiding a second epidemic wave.
Philippe’s speech will be followed by a debate and a vote, with only 75 of the 577 legislators admitted to the National Assembly in accordance with social distancing measures.
The rest will vote by proxy.
President Emmanuel Macron, whose LREM party holds a majority in parliament, announced that the lock-up would be lifted from May 11, but details remain vague.
Along with Britain, Italy and Spain, France is one of the European countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 23,293 deaths on Monday.
But encouraging signs have begun to emerge, as the number of intensive care and hospitalized patients has been declining steadily for several days.
The government has warned that France is facing an historic 8% contraction in economic output this year while unemployment in March registered a record 7.1% increase.
But despite the imperative to get the economy back on track, the government faces the risk of a second wave of infections threatening hospital capacity, and life in France will be far from normal again from May 11.
– “Controlled and progressive” –
The hard-hit restaurants and cafes are likely to remain closed, and the government is not expected to announce until the end of May when they can reopen.
Macron, however, said schools could reopen gradually from May 11, unlike Italy, which keeps them closed until September.
This turned out to be controversial, with the government’s own science council saying it preferred that schools remain closed for several months.
The council recommended a “gradual and controlled relaxation of isolation.”
Another question that will be closely monitored is whether the wearing of masks will become compulsory on public transport, which should increase capacity from May 11.
After harsh criticism of the stock shortages, the government has said that France will make more than 26 million reusable non-medical face masks available to the public by the end of this week.
France has 67 million inhabitants.
Before Tuesday’s vote, the right-wing Les Républicains party said its deputies would not support Philippe’s plans to lift the lockdown, while the far left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) and the Socialist Party said the end of imprisonment was to be subordinate to the government providing free masks for all.
Philippe is expected to announce that certain retailers will be allowed to open – joining supermarkets and other essential services providers that continued to operate during the closure – and to ease restrictions on travel between cities.