France has been on a strict nationwide lockdown since March 17th in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
On Easter Monday president Emmanuel Macron revealed that, as death tolls continue to show a slow but steady fall, that restrictions could start to be lifted from May 11th.
However the government has always been clear that the loosening of restrictions will be a slow and gradual process and could be halted or even reversed if the health situation takes a turn for the worse.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, as he presented the plan to parliament on Tuesday, stressed this again and added that the plan, as presented, depends on there being no more than 3,000 new cases a day by May 11th.
When presenting the plan, he also stressed that local authorities will have the power to adapt measures to conditions in their area if there is a particular local need.
This is phase 1, which runs from May 11th to June 2nd. Details for the next phase will be outlined later and will depend on how phase 1 goes.
“I will address the French people at the end of May to evaluate the conditions in which we organise the next phase of the easing of restrictions and we will take decisions on the organisation of cafés, restaurants and holidays,” said Philippe.
There are the main points
The attestation de déplacement dérogatoire – the form that everybody currently has to carry every time they leave their home – will not be needed, apart from for journeys over 100km.
All journeys of more than 100km will require a permission certificate. Journeys of more the 100km are discouraged and will only be allowed under similar rules as now – for essential motives such as crucial work travel or family reasons.
Family visits do not qualify as a reason to travel more than 100km and the Prime Minister urged people to continue to protect elderly relatives by not visiting them.
At present more than 10 million people in France cannot work, but it seems that the majority of them will be going back to work after May 11th – albeit with conditions in place.
Anyone who can work from home is asked to continue doing so for the weeks ahead.
People who cannot work from home will start to return to work, but employers must put in place social distancing measures in the workplace – this could include operating staggered shifts (which would ask help reduce rush hour crowds on public transport) or bringing people back on a part time basis to begin with.
All shops will be able to reopen from May 11th, but they must put in place social distancing measures first.
This will include limiting the number of people allowed in, putting in place markers to indicate distances when queuing and providing protective equipment such as masks for staff – in short the same way that the essential stores that have been allowed to open during lockdown have operated.
Local officials will have the power to prevent a shop reopening if they judge it cannot operate in a safe and socially distanced way.
Masks are recommended for shoppers and shops can require their customers to wear masks.
Big shopping centres and markets can reopen unless local authorities decide there is reason to keep them closed.
Travel within France
Travel will again be possible but only within a 100km limit. People won't be free to make long distance trips around the country, unless for essential reasons.
Journeys of more than 100km are allowed for essential professional or family reasons. It is not clear if a new permission form will be made available by the government for use after May 11th for long distance travel.
The country's high speed TGV trains will be running, but at a reduced capacity and by prior reservation only, in order to discourage travel.
Philippe added: “This is not the time to take a weekend trip”.
Travel into France is currently strictly regulated and for essential reasons only and there was no mention of a plan to change this.
President Emmanuel Macron has already said the EU's borders to non-EU countries will not reopen on May 11th.
Although long-distance trains remain limited, public transport in cities will be brought back to higher levels as people return to work.
Public transport in Paris will run at 70 percent of its normal service from May 11th and then increase depending on demand.
But capacity will be reduced due to the need for social distancing measures. One of out two seats will be put out of use while passengers will be separated on platforms, the PM said.
Local authorities will make decisions on city transport networks.
Importantly, masks will be compulsory on all public transport.
Schools and crèches would start to reopen on a staggered basis from May 11th.
In nurseries (kindergarten) there will be a limit of 10 children per group and local authorities able to make adaptations.
For schools the number of pupils per class will be limited to 15.
The return to school will at first be voluntary, with parents not obliged to send their children back. Pupils will be able to follow teaching from home.
A decision will be taken on reopening post-16 high schools (lycées) at the end of May.
Masks will be compulsory for pupils in secondary schools, but not in primary schools or nurseries.
This will remain limited for some time to come.
A decision will be taken at the end of May on when cafés, bars and restaurants can reopen and Philippe “called for patience” in visiting friends and family members – particularly elderly or vulnerable people.
Parks and gardens can open up in certain low-risk areas and beaches will remain closed until at least June 1st.
Large public gatherings such as concerts will not be allowed before September.
The limits on a social gatherings either in public or private will be 10 – except at funerals where 20 people are allowed.
Churches and other places of worship can open, but must limit the size of gatherings and put in place social distancing measures.
But official religious ceremonies will not be allowed before June 2nd.
Elderly and vulnerable people
Philippe asked people over 65 to be “patient” and to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and thereby also the hospitals.
The government has previously recommended the country's over 65s to remain home as much as possible after May 11th, however this is merely advisory and it will be up to each individual to decide how they behave after that date.
Individual exercise such as jogging, cycling and walking can resume without limit from May 11th, as long as social distancing is respected but there will be no sports in covered areas (such as gyms) and no team or contact sport.
Professional sports will not be allowed until September.
Cinemas, theatres and big museums will not reopen on May 11th, the government has decided.
“Large museums, which attract a large number of visitors from outside the area, cinemas and theatres and concert halls, where people stay in the same place in a closed environment, will not be able to reopen,” said the Prime Minister.
On the other hand small museums and libraries will be allowed to reopen on May 11th “because they can function more easily while respecting the protective measures”.
Everyone who has studied French grammar will know that the French love an exception.
The above is the national framework, but local authorities will have leeway to make extra adjustments if they see fit – Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has already published her plan for life in the city after lockdown which adds several measures to those proposed by the government.
From May 7th each département will be given one of two designations, depending on how many coronavirus cases they have and the situation in local hospitals.
“Green” départements (with the fewest cases) will be able to ease more restrictions than red départements, for example reopening public parks and gardens.
More details on this system will be presented in the coming days.
In addition to day-to-day life, Philippe also presented the nation's plan for continuing to contain the virus, warning that with no vaccine and no effective treatment, we will be living with the virus for months to come.
The 'protect, test and isolate' strategy aims to contain it as much as possible and ensure that health services are able to cope.
Testing will be ramped up to 700,000 a week and people can claim 100 percent reimbursement for the cost of a test.
Although the Prime Minister spoke about a system of contact testing, the government's planned testing app StopCovid is not ready yet.
Anyone diagnosed with coronavirus will be required to isolate themselves for 14 days. Hotels will be available for people to self-isolate in, although people can also choose to stay at home – although their families will have to isolate with them if they take that option.