On June 9th, France reached phase 3 of its reopening plan with bars, restaurants and cafés reopening their indoor spaces and the curfew moving back to 11pm.
The 4th stage, which will see the curfew scrapped entirely, was initially scheduled for June 30th, while earlier this week, Director General of Health Jérôme Salomon told RTL radio that the requirement to wear masks in outdoor spaces could be lifted “as soon as July 1st”.
But on Wednesday the PM announced both rules would end earlier than planned with the curfew that has been in place since December to end on Sunday, whilst wearing masks outdoors would no longer be obligatory from Thursday.
So what made it possible for restrictions to be lifted earlier than scheduled?
A low incidence rate
Case numbers and hospital numbers continue to fall sharply and for the first time since August 2020 the national incidence level (cases per 100,000 of the population) is below 50 (green), as shown in the map below.
Except for a few départements including Pyrenées-Atlantiques, the Paris region and the overseas department of Guyane, most of France is now green.
The average number of daily Covid-19 cases is down to 3,881, a 40% decrease in just one week. In early April they were up at 40,000 each day.
The number of daily deaths has dropped down to 55, a 17% decrease in a week.
There are currently 1,952 people in intensive care, compared to 6,000 in early April.
Successful vaccine rollout
After a slow start, France’s vaccine rollout has sped up in recent weeks, with more than 550,000 people getting vaccinated most days.
Forty-five per cent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine whilst just over 23 percent are completely vaccinated.
It is unclear what level of cover is needed to really impact the spread of infections but with Covid rates low and vaccines being administered at a good pace the government will be confident of avoiding any significant rebound from relaxing certain measures early.
Jean Castex has set an objective for 40 million getting at least one dose by the end of August.
Difficulties policing the 11pm curfew
As people enjoy the warm summer evenings in bars and cafés, the police have been struggled to enforce the 11pm curfew, which has gradually been pushed back since the 6pm curfew during January and February.
The past week has seen people detained and officers using tear gas to disperse hundreds of young Parisians gathered in the streets in defiance of the curfew.
Last weekend, a gathering in the lawns in front of the Invalides museum in Paris was the third party at the site since Thursday. Other mass parties had to be broken up by police in the Tuileries gardens and on the banks of the river Seine, as young people enjoyed the warm evenings.
Sports tournaments have also made sticking to the curfew increasingly difficult.
Tennis fans watching the men’s semi-final at the French Open were given a special dispensation to stay out after curfew, but the government said there would be no more exceptions.
On Tuesday, bars were packed with people watching the Euro 2020 football match between France and Germany, which started at 9pm and ended shortly before 11pm, which meant the streets were busy with fans returning home after the curfew.
Mask wearing in the heat
With France in the middle of an early summer heatwave, and temperatures set to reach 33ºC on Wednesday, mask-wearing outdoors has become increasingly uncomfortable, with many choosing not to wear it in the street at all.
Some scientists have argued that that wearing a mask outdoors, where the risk of transmission is very low, is unnecessary.
Je soutiens la décision de levée du port du masque à l’extérieur
Sur le plan de la transmission il semblait absurde de continuer à porter le masque dans la rue (très faible risque) alors qu’on l’enlève dès qu’on est attablés avec des gens parfois pendant des heures (haut risque)
— Nathan Peiffer-Smadja (@nathanpsmad) June 16, 2021
But what about the Delta variant?
Despite the worrying Delta variant causing the UK to postpone its lifting of lockdown restrictions, France still has a low number of Covid-19 cases linked to the variant.
Health Minister Olivier Véran revealed this week that between 2 percent and 4 percent of French cases were linked to the variant. However, he warned that was also the case a few weeks in the UK.
Authorities fear the Delta variant could become dominant in France but there are reasons to be optimistic, not least the fact that France’s vaccine roll out is on schedule.