France to Unveil End-of-Lockdown Plan Within 2 Weeks

April 20, 2020by Ania Nussbaum and Rudy Ruitenberg Bloomberg News (TNS)
French President Emmanuel Macron, center, wears a face mask during the visit of the military field hospital outside the Emile Muller Hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France, on March 25, 2020, on the ninth day of a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in France. Macron has extended the lockdown to May 11. (Mathieu Cugnot/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

France will unveil within two weeks a plan to progressively lift restrictions on travel and business that aimed to curb the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Sunday.

After May 11, when the lockdown starts to get lifted, “our lives won’t be exactly the same as before,” Philippe warned in a televised press conference. “Not right away, and probably not before long.”

Countries across Europe are considering how to lift the most severe restrictions, as a slowdown in new coronavirus cases and fewer occupied hospital beds indicate the crisis may be abating. Germany will allow some smaller stores to start serving customers again this week, while schools will gradually reopen in early May.

France has been on lockdown since March 17, and President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation on Monday that the confinement measures would be extended to May 11. Philippe declined to provide specifics on the plan to end the lockdown.

‘Confinement worked’

The country’s statistics agency estimates that social-distancing measures, school and store closures and restrictions on movement have shut down 35% of the economy. Moving to moderate containment from full lockdown could lift economic output by about 20%, according to a rough estimate by Bloomberg Economics.

The current lockdown could lead Europe’s third biggest economy to contract by “around” 10% in 2020, Philippe said. That is more than the 8% projection given by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on April 14.

Philippe repeatedly praised the French for respecting the guidelines on confinement, presenting maps showing how the epidemics would have spread without the lockdown — painting the grim picture of a country overwhelmed by the pandemic. “Confinement worked,” the prime minister said.

Macron’s approval rating slipped 1 point in April to 42%, after jumping 11 points in March to the highest in almost two years, according to an Ifop opinion poll for Le Journal du Dimanche. Philippe’s approval rating rose 2 points to 44% in April, the highest since May 2018.

France has been increasing testing for the virus, and has mobilized its industrial companies to produce everything from surgical masks to ventilator replacement parts and visors to protect health care workers.

Close to 20,000 deaths

It is close to becoming the fourth country to report more than 20,000 deaths from the virus, behind Italy, the U.S. and Spain. Still, falling numbers for patients in hospitals and in intensive care are positive signs.

The number of patients in intensive care, an indicator of the outbreak’s intensity and its impact on the country’s hospital system, fell for an 11th day Sunday. The number of daily deaths increased at its slowest pace in three weeks and the country also posted the smallest increase in new infections in almost a month, with fewer than 2,000 new infections.

Worldwide, cases now exceed 2.3 million, while more than 161,000 people have died from the coronavirus.

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©2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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