PARIS — France’s relaxation of restrictions will be “progressive” and “careful” and will be reassessed every three weeks, with the possibility of a move back to tighter conditions if the coronavirus regains momentum.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe detailed in a speech to parliament on Tuesday the country’s plan to loosen lockdown measures as of May 11. It included details on reopening schools, most shops excluding restaurants, cafés and bars, some cultural venues, as well as an updated policy on wearing masks and testing.
Philippe said the country would face “a risk of collapse” if the lockdown was prolonged “beyond strictly necessary” and said the implementation of his plan would be based on “protecting, testing, isolating.”
The plan will be adjusted locally to take into consideration the disparities in the spread of the coronavirus.
In an evolution of the government’s guidance, he said wearing face masks would be compulsory on public transportation and for teachers and middle-school students, as well as “in instances where social distancing is not possible,” including in the workplace where continuing to work from home is not a possibility. Long-distance travel will only be permitted for “imperative reasons.”
The government, Philippe said, will aim to carry out at least 700,000 virological tests per week by May 11, testing all people, symptomatic or not, who have had close contact with someone who tested positive.
Schools will reopen according to a staggered calendar, starting with kindergarten and elementary schools on May 11, then middle schools as of May 18, where the spread of the virus is weak, and high schools as of early June, containment of the virus permitting. Classes will be limited to between 10 and 15 children per class and parents will be able to choose whether to send their children to school or keep them at home.
He also said he would submit a law in the coming days to extend the current state of health emergency until July 23.
Philippe made his address after French media reported President Emmanuel Macron had contacted select journalists to express his disagreement with Philippe over holding a vote in parliament on the proposed plan on Tuesday instead of giving them 24 hours to study it. The Elysée denied any such rift between the two.
“We categorically deny calls by the president to journalists with the intention of sharing divergences with the prime minister, the [two] work closely together in the same direction since the beginning of this crisis as they have since the beginning of this presidency,” an Elysée official said.
France has been on lockdown since March 17.