Relief for restaurants as France prepares new lockdown easing

[PARIS] The French government is expected to announce Thursday new measures to ease the coronavirus lockdown, allowing restaurants in areas where the outbreak remains contained to open as soon as next week.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will unveil the second phase of his plan to get the country back to work following a meeting with top cabinet members, a government source said, after strict stay-at-home orders were lifted on May 11.

But while restaurants, bars and cafes in so-called "green" zones with limited Covid-19 cases could open on June 2, those in "red" zones including Paris and a large swathe of the north-east may have to wait until July, the source said.

Cities will also be allowed to reopen parks and public gardens, though in red zones visitors will have to wear masks.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has urged the government to reopen parks for residents who have been cooped up for weeks, not least to avoid the mass gatherings on canals and esplanades as summer approaches, many of which have been dispersed by police.

The number of Covid-19 daily deaths has continued to decline across France, with 66 new fatalities reported Wednesday night, bringing the total to just under 28,600 since the outbreak began.

That could allow the government to lift restrictions on travelling, with residents currently required to stay within 100 kilometres of their homes, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said this week.

But face masks will remain mandatory on trains, metros and other public transport "so long as we do not have a treatment" against the new coronavirus, environment minister Elisabeth Borne said Wednesday.

Ms Borne told Thursday's Paris Match magazine she also plans to triple government funds to encourage cycling to 60 million euros (S$93.5 million) and avoid a surge in car use by people wary of public transport.


Parents of high school students are also waiting to learn if classes will resume at least partially in June, and if the all-important orals for the final-year baccalaureat exam will go ahead.

Although classes have resumed for some of the younger grades, in practice schools are taking in only a small fraction of students, often only a few days a week, in order to meet the strict hygiene and social distancing requirements.

Yet the government is hoping the months of confinement have averted a second wave of Covid-19 cases, and plans to introduce a StopCovid contact tracing app for phones after it was approved by Parliament late Wednesday.

"Circulation of the virus has slowed markedly," according to the initial findings from contagion tracking efforts already in place, according to the Social Security system.

And in Paris, an administrative court has allowed the Printemps department store, an Art Nouveau landmark, to reopen from Thursday, though shops with more than 40,000 square metres (430,000 square feet) of floor space must remain closed for now.

Masks will be provided for clients who will have to follow a fixed itinerary throughout the store, and the plexiglass barriers now ubiquitous at cash registers across France have been installed, management told AFP.

The government is eager to revive the economy after a poll showed that 84 per cent of respondents fear a painful recession.

On Wednesday, statistics office Insee said gross domestic product probably shrank 20 per cent in the second quarter, making it likely the full-year drop will exceed government forecasts of an 8 per cent slump.



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