French president Emmanuel Macron has outlined a tentative, four-stage easing of the country’s Covid-19 lockdown, starting next week and finishing at the end of June.
“Our battle now is to vaccinate as quickly as possible to increase our collective immunity,” he said in an interview with regional newspapers.
“The big difference between now and October is that today we have vaccines that give us a path to a sustainable exit from the crisis. We’ve seen the effectiveness of the curfew, combined with the arrival of vaccines in January.”
Under Macron’s plan, the ban on non-essential travel of more than 10km from home will end on May 3.
On May 19, the starting time of the nightly curfew will be moved back from 7pm to 9pm, while shops, museums, cinemas and theatres will be allowed to reopen under strict social distancing rules, and restaurants and cafés will be allowed to serve tables of up to six people outside.
On June 9, the start of the curfew will be further pushed back to 11pm, restaurants and cafés will be able to serve inside and outside (albeit with restrictions on numbers), the requirement for homeworking for offices will be eased, cultural and sporting venues can accommodate up to 5,000 people with health passports and foreign tourists will be allowed in, again with health passports.
Finally, on June 30, most remaining restrictions will be lifted.
However, each stage of the relaxation of lockdown rules could be delayed in departments where the rate of infections is running at more than 400 per 100,000 inhabitants, which is currently the case in the Paris area and around Marseille.
French hospitals in many parts of the country remain under serious strain from Covid-19 patients in intensive care — with more than 300 coronavirus deaths in hospital recorded on a typical day — but recent data suggest the “third wave” of the pandemic has peaked.
A study published by the Institut Pasteur this week said it was possible that hospitalisations would surge again if lockdown measures were lifted too quickly from the middle of May, “even if optimistic forecasts about the rate of vaccinations are justified”.
France administered more than 478,000 vaccines on Wednesday, taking the total number of jabs delivered to nearly 21m. Nearly 15m people in France, or 22 per cent of the population, have received at least one jab.