The French government has announced a widespread relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, with bars and restaurants to reopen and limits on long-distance travel lifted.
The health situation was “a bit better than we hoped”, 17 days after a strict eight-week lockdown was officially lifted, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said at a government press conference.
Even ahead of his announcement, restaurateurs in Paris were already dusting off their outdoor seating.
France has been hard hit by Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, with 28,596 deaths as of the latest official figures published on Wednesday.
But those figures showed only 191 new cases nationwide in the previous 24 hours.
The country now has the capacity to test all suspected cases and their contacts, and even so, less than 2% of tests were coming back positive, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.
Philippe warned that vigilance was still required, with the virus “still present, at different levels, across our territory”.
But, he said, “the speed at which it is spreading is under control”.
Cafes, bars and restaurants across the country will be able to reopen for the first time since mid-March, the premier said, adding that they were “part of our art of living”.
But groups of more than 10 will be banned, and tables will have to be placed at least 1m apart.
Staff will be required to wear masks, and so too will customers if they are moving around.
Paris and the surrounding Ile de France region, as well as the overseas territories of French Guiana and Mayotte, have been classified as “orange zones”, where extra restrictions will apply.
There, cafes, bars and restaurants will only be allowed to receive customers on outdoor terraces.
Parks and gardens will also reopen this weekend in Paris and other areas that were initially classified as high-risk “red zones” when the lockdown was lifted, the premier said.
“At last! Good sense has finally won out,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has repeatedly demanded to be allowed to reopen the city’s green spaces, reacted on Twitter.
Philippe said that France wanted to reopen its borders with other European Union countries from June 15, without quarantine requirements, though it will impose them reciprocally on member states that impose them on people travelling from France.
The coronavirus was “still circulating very actively in some parts of the world”, and France wanted co-ordination at the EU level to adopt a common position on travel from outside the bloc, also starting on June 15, he said.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meanwhile announced that he was speeding up the reopening of schools, with 90% of primary schools already open for some pupils.
More middle schools classes will open, including in the former red zones of the Paris region and north-eastern France, where they had so far remained closed, he said.
In the rest of France, high schools should also begin to reopen for at least one age group.
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