France announced an array of measures to begin easing a strict lockdown and reignite an economy battered by the coronavirus, with plans to reopen shops starting May 11 one of the first steps toward normalization.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe outlined the measures in a speech to parliament, as President Emmanuel Macron’s government moves to match steps taken by European peers in tentatively trying to end weeks of virtual lockdown. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez plans to announce loosening measures later on Tuesday, while in Greece, Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis told citizens that some stores will reopen May 4.
European leaders are eager to restart economies after lockdown measures shuttered factories, halted travel and kept millions of people largely confined to their homes. The fallout is spurring talk of recovery efforts on the scale of the post-World War II reconstruction. But after more than 120,000 deaths on the continent, policy makers are wary of decisions that could see them risking lives for the sake of securing jobs.
Philippe said French restaurants and cafes may be allowed to reopen from June 2, and pupils can start returning to school from May 11 but with strict rules. Public events of more than 5,000 people are outlawed until September and working from home is encouraged for at least three more weeks, he said.
The tourism industry is likely to continue to suffer, as beaches won’t reopen until at least June 1, parks and gardens will be accessible only where virus infections are low, and inter-regional travel will be discouraged.
“We must protect French people without immobilizing France to the point of collapse,” Philippe told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament in Paris Tuesday.
“We must follow a fine line: too carefree and the epidemic restarts; too cautious and the entire country sinks,” he said. “The strategy I have announced allows us to stick to this fine line.”
The lockdown has helped to contain the virus in France, with admissions at intensive-care units declining, according to the authorities. The disease has so far killed more than 23,000 people there, with almost 200,000 infected.
The easing steps come as new cases trend lower across the continent. Earlier Tuesday, Spain recorded a drop in the number of new infections and deaths, and Germany’s daily increase in cases fell below 1,000 for the first time in more than five weeks. Italy on Monday reported 1,739 infections, its lowest daily number in seven weeks.
But it’s not all good news. Germany’s reproduction factor — a means of gauging how successfully countries have kept the virus in check — edged up to 1.0 on Monday from 0.9 the previous day.
“I plead for understanding that now when contagion rates have again increased that we need to proceed very, very cautiously so that we don’t have to take back all the easing steps,” German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said in a TV interview with ARD.
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