By Agence France-Presse
President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that France had marked its first victory in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, ending much of its lockdown but adding that he would “draw the lessons” from a crisis that has killed nearly 30,000 people in the country.
“The fight against the epidemic is not finished but I am happy about this first victory against the virus,” Macron said in an address to the nation, his fourth since COVID-19 cases began surging in March.
He said all of mainland France, including Paris, would go into a “green zone” of a lower state of alert starting Monday, meaning cafes and restaurants in the French capital could open in full and not just on terraces.
The announcement will be a relief for restaurants in the French capital and its suburbs, after officials signalled last week that their reopening might not come before June 22.
Only the overseas territories of Mayotte and French Guiana will remain at the “orange” alert level, with high numbers of cases still posing a threat to strained hospital systems.
Macron also said that all French schools, except high schools, would fully reopen from June 22, a move that will allow more parents to return to work and give students at least a few days with their teachers before the summer break.
Family visits will also be allowed from Monday at retirement homes, which have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 29,000 people in France, though the number of new infections has slowed markedly in recent days.
“As soon as tomorrow we will be able to turn the page on this first chapter across all our territory,” Macron said.
The president also confirmed that the second round of municipal elections originally set for March when the government imposed the lockdown against the virus, would go ahead as planned on June 28.
But mass gatherings will remain “tightly controlled” for now, since “they are the main occasions for spreading the virus,” he said.
– ‘Exposed our shortcomings’ –
Macron said the government had mobilised an “unprecedented” 500 billion euros ($563 billion) in financial aid and relief to prevent layoffs and support key sectors including aviation, automobiles, restaurants and tourism.
“With this epidemic, the global economy has come to a virtual standstill. Our first priority will be to rebuild an economy that is strong, ecological, sovereign and united,” he said.
But the French leader acknowledged that “this challenge has also exposed our shortcomings and weaknesses, our dependence on other continents for certain products, our organisational handicaps, our social and territorial inequalities,” he said.
That effort will include “massive investments” to educate and train young people and ensure they find work, a nod to growing worries that an entire generation of students could see their futures jeopardised by the fallout of the crisis.
Macron said that widespread consultations would be carried out with civil society in the coming weeks on how best to respond, and that he would again address the French people in July.
“We need to create new jobs by investing in our technological, digital, industrial and agricultural independence,” he said.
However he ruled out new taxes to pay for the recovery effort, saying he would not backtrack on efforts to cut “one of the highest fiscal burdens” on its citizens and businesses.
“The only answer is to build a new economic model that is strong and durable, and to work and produce more so that we do not depend on anyone else,” he said.