Primary schools and crèches reopened as President Emmanuel Macron’s government began easing restrictions imposed when France entered its third nationwide lockdown on April 3rd.
Secondary schools and high schools (collèges and lycées) have another week of distance learning before reopening to in-person teaching in a week’s time.
Restrictions on people travelling beyond a 10-kilometre radius of their homes will also be dropped on May 3rd as the number of Covid patients in intensive care falls.
Non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and cultural and sporting venues are expected to be allowed to reopen from mid-May, depending on the health crisis.
On a visit to a primary school in Melun, about 50 kilometres southeast of Paris, Macron on Monday said that an unpopular nighttime curfew starting at 7pm would also soon be “pushed back a bit”.
A more detailed announcement is expected later this week.
The French government made keeping schools open a priority throughout a second wave of infections in the winter, arguing that schools help combat social inequality.
Between March 2020 and March 2021, French schools were closed for only 10 weeks, compared with 28 weeks in Germany and 47 in the United States, UN figures show.
Macron, who is expected to seek re-election next year, drew fierce criticism however for rejecting calls by medical experts to order a third national lockdown in late January.
Two months later, with hospitals under severe pressure, he imposed a ‘partial lockdown’, but the latest confinement period has been more relaxed than others, with people encouraged to spend time outdoors.
Figures show the situation starting to stabilise, with the number of patients in intensive care flattening out below 6,000 in recent days.
The peak of the third wave “appears to be behind us”, Prime Minister Jean Castex declared last week.