How France plans to gradually lift its COVID lockdown to save the holidays

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French President Emmanuel Macron is due to deliver a national televised speech on Tuesday to take stock of the nation’s fight against COVID. Macron is expected to disclose details of how the government will gradually lift restrictions in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

COVID rates began to rise dramatically in September and October after the summer recess period, far exceeding numbers seen in the spring when France suffered a strict two-month lockdown. To fight the second wave, Macron ordered a new lockdown in late October and lasting until early December.

But this second lock encountered greater resistance although it was a bit more flexible than the first. Schools remained open, although many now only hold face-to-face classes on alternate days. And many more businesses have been allowed to stay open, though the bookstore closures sparked an uproar.

The nation has also seen protests demanding that places of worship be allowed to restart services. And owners of small businesses, especially restaurants and bars, insist they won’t survive this second lockdown.

Although Macron’s official announcement doesn’t come until tomorrow, details of his plans began to spread over the weekend following a series of talks with government officials. The country has seen COVID rates and hospitalizations start to drop, which has created some optimism that the lockdown is having an impact.

At the same time, officials have been keen to avoid using the word “deconfinement” to describe upcoming rule changes lest it suggest the battle is over. Instead, they refer to “easing restrictions,” according to Le Monde.

“The challenge is to adapt the lockdown rules as the health situation improves while avoiding a new outbreak of the epidemic,” said government spokesman Gabriel Attal, according to Le Journal Du Dimanche.

This easing will take place in three stages and can be adjusted depending on whether the levels of COVD continue to fall or rise.

Starting next week, a wider range of businesses will be allowed to reopen. This will likely include hairdressers as well as churches, temples, and mosques. The fate of cinemas and museums is less clear. The government wants to allow battered merchants to enjoy the holiday season shopping, while giving shoppers several weeks to shop so there is no rush in the final days before Christmas.

The government has been successful in convincing physical retailers and e-commerce sites to delay their “Black Friday” promotions by a week so that stores are open again and can be competitive. This includes retail giant Amazon, which has agreed to push back its Black Friday sales in France.

Some travel restrictions are also expected to be lifted as part of a second leg, possibly from December 20. Previously, government officials said people could likely travel to be with their families during vacation periods. However, Prime Minister Jean Castex also warned that large New Year’s Eve gatherings would not be allowed. Such restrictions continue to worry producers of products like foie gras and Champagne which are associated with the holiday season and often see a large chunk of their sales in December.

For now, it looks like bars and restaurants will remain closed until January, when the third part of the lockdown easing takes place. Of course, that could well be revisited if vacation travel and shopping pushes COVID rates up again.

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