PARIS (Reuters) – The French government wants all retail outlets other than restaurants, bars and cafes to be able to reopen once a nationwide lockdown is lifted on May 11, it said on Thursday, offering some relief to one of the hardest-hit sectors
The government has said that not all businesses will be able to go back to work immediately once the lockdown, in place since mid-March to rein in the coronavirus outbreak, ends.
“We want all retailers to be able to open on May 11 in the same way out of fairness,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France Info radio. “I would only set aside restaurants, bars and cafes that will need special treatment because they are a place of mixing.”
Protocols would have to be worked out to protect clients and workers alike, Le Maire said. It remained to be seen whether the re-opening would be possible nationwide or only region by region, he added.
Since President Emmanuel Macron pledged to begin the end of the lockdown on May 11, the government has been trying to come up with a plan that would minimize the chances of a second wave of cases spreading across the country.
With less than 10% of France’s 67 million population expected to have contracted the virus by the end of the lockdown, the government has already made it clear that restrictions will remain on travelling between regions.
That is likely to mean those in the hardest-hit areas in eastern France and the Paris region will initially have tougher restrictions.
The government is also looking at limiting the movements of older people, who are more susceptible to contracting the virus.
“After the lockdown, we will not live as we did before,’ Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Thursday. “Some regions are better off than others and the government is working to adapt the post-lockdown to the realities of districts, communes and regions.”
Companies have already been told they should encourage employees to continue working from home if they can, to limit the number of people on public transport in the bigger cities. The objective is to ensure that the public has masks available by the end of the lockdown, although it remains unclear whether it will be compulsory to wear them.
The government is also aiming to increase the number of tests to about 500,000 a week, from about 25,000 at the moment, and is assessing whether those who test positive can then be isolated to break the transmission chain.
France has suffered the world’s fourth-highest reported coronavirus death toll at more than 20,000, with more than 158,000 infections.
Retail outlets will need to adapt strict rules to limit the number of people in their shops at one time. Restaurants, cafes, bars, sports and religious gatherings will not reopen until mid-June at the earliest, although people will in principle no longer need a written document to walk the streets or go jogging.
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas and John Irish; additional reporting by Myriam Rivet; editing by Susan Fenton, Nick Macfie, Larry King)