France to ease travel restrictions inside the country and allow schools, cafes and restaurants to reopen starting next week after successfully slowing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Thursday .
“Freedom will become the rule again and restrictions will become the exception,” he said. “In terms of health, the news is good, but not so good that everything can go back to normal.”
His speech marks the second stage of “deconfinement” after the easing on May 11 of a severe two-month national lockout.
More than 28,500 people have died from Covid-19 infections in France since the beginning of March, and about 1,500 patients are still in intensive care, but the number of hospital admissions for the disease has slowed after a new infection and deaths peaked in April. , two weeks after the lockout begins.
The government of President Emmanuel Macron is now eager to revive the economy to limit permanent damage to the country’s industries and the tourism sector. Economic activity fell by a third at the start of the freeze, and authorities predict gross domestic product will decrease by at least 8% in 2020, the worst depression since the Second World War.
“The country will have to fight the impact of a historic recession,” said Philippe.
The French, currently forbidden to venture more than 100 km from their home, except for essential business, will be allowed from Tuesday to travel freely within the country – a relaxation that will relieve hoteliers and restaurateurs before what should be a sunny holiday season more dependent on domestic tourism than usual.
The regions most affected by the coronavirus are the Great East of eastern France, where a Christian evangelical gathering has accelerated the spread of the virus, and Ile-de-France around Paris. So far, western regions like Brittany have been largely spared.
These regional disparities mean that tighter restrictions will remain in force in Ile-de-France, still classified as “orange” with the overseas territories of Guyana and Mayotte, while the rest of the country is “green”.
Parisian restaurants and bars, for example, can only serve customers on outdoor terraces. City parks and gardens will reopen on Tuesday, however. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, complained bitterly of the continuous closure of the parks, which forced residents to crowd in other public spaces like the banks of the Seine.
Theaters, gymnasiums and swimming pools can reopen from June 2, except in the “orange” zones, where relaxation will be delayed by three weeks. Cinemas across the country will begin screenings starting June 22.
But even outside Paris, life is far from returning to normal. Travelers must wear masks on all public transport, and travel abroad is virtually stopped until June 15 at least. Nightclubs remain closed and telework will continue to be encouraged. “Social distancing” and special hygiene measures remain in effect in offices, factories and restaurants.