On Monday, May 11, France begins a “gradual” easing of its Covid-19 lockdown measures. Here’s everything you need to know about the restrictions being lifted.
Freedom of movement up to 100km
The starkest difference for French residents on Monday is that they will no longer have to fill out a form to leave the house. Trips of up to 100 kilometres from home (or within one’s département or district) will be allowed without justification, as will gatherings of up to 10 people. Longer trips will still be allowed only for work or for “compelling family reasons”, as justified by a signed form, said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
Outdoor activities, such as running, will no longer be subject to one-hour limits. Some beaches will even begin to reopen, as determined by local authorities.
Red and green zones
Guiding the government’s plans for easing the lockdown is the division of the country into two zones, green and red, based on health indicators.
“The country is cut in two, with the virus circulating more quickly in some regions,” said Prime Minister Édouard Philippe on Thursday at a press conference confirming the May 11 plans. “Some areas are still seeing an active circulation of the virus or a lot of pressure on hospitals. Those are classified as red areas.”
For now, though, the government has imposed few additional restrictions on red areas, preferring to leave specifics to local authorities. For the week of May 11, parks and gardens are the only public places that will reopen in green zones but not red, unless otherwise specified by mayors or prefects. Travel between the two zones is allowed, as long as it respects the 100-kilometre limit. And primary schools in both zones will gradually begin to reopen, at local authorities’ discretion.
The gap between the two zones will widen on May 18, when middle schools in the green zone should begin to reopen, while those in the red won’t. At the beginning of June, the difference between the two zones is expected to grow further. At that point, Philippe said, high schools, bars, and restaurants in the green zone may be able to reopen, but not in départements still marked as red.
As of Friday, France’s main transport operators have gradually begun restoring traffic to normal. National rail operator SNCF says that, by Monday, roughly one-third of high-speed trains will be running again, while regional lines will be operating at 40 to 50 percent (and slightly higher in the Paris region).
The Paris métro, bus and suburban rail lines operated by RATP will return to 75 percent of regular service, the agency said, with the city’s two automated métro lines running on regular schedules. Sixty of 302 métro stations will remain closed, however.
Moreover, passenger capacity will remain severely limited: in order to respect social-distancing rules, RATP wants to limit ridership to 15 percent of normal levels. Passengers at rush hour will be required to supply a certificate from their employer justifying their trip.
All passengers on public transport nationwide will also be required to wear a mask or risk a €135 fine. The government said that, starting Monday, it would be supplying 10 million masks to local transport operators to distribute to passengers, including 4.4 million for the Paris region.
Schools are one of the biggest flash points in the government’s reopening plans. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has affirmed that 80 to 85 percent of primary schools will reopen as soon as Tuesday, May 12, with roughly 1 million children set to return to school. This will mark the first step toward a full reopening of the education system.
The decision goes against the advice of the French government’s Scientific Council on the virus, which recommended that schools not reopen until September. In a late April poll, 6 in 10 respondents also said they opposed the reopening.
The government insists that reopening schools is necessary, with Blanquer noting that “extremely significant social problems” have been exacerbated during the lockdown and underprivileged students disproportionately affected.
Parents will, however, have the option not to send their children back to school for now. And middle, high-school and university students will continue to stay home, with secondary education set to open more gradually over the coming weeks and months.
For many, the most visible sign of a return to normal will be the reopening of most businesses. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Friday that “all businesses except cafés, bars and restaurants will reopen”.
In order to do so, businesses will need to follow safety guidelines outlined in a 20 page document. The document sets out a variety of specific recommendations for maintaining social distance between workers and customers, including capacity restrictions and markings on the ground to indicate required distances.
The largest shops, including department stores and shopping centres, are negotiating with unions to establish specific protocols for reopening. For the time being, no large shopping malls will reopen in the Paris region.
Cultural establishments including theatres, cinemas and large museums will remain closed, but libraries will begin to reopen.
France’s vast tourism industry will remain largely shuttered for now, with borders staying closed to non-European Union visitors until at least June 15, said Interior Minister Castaner. Cross-border travel will remain the “exception”, he said.
Any travellers who do enter France from outside the EU’s open-border Schengen area – whether citizens or foreigners – will face a mandatory two-week quarantine upon arrival. Those entering from EU countries or the United Kingdom will be exempt, although Health Minister Olivier Véran has suggested that France reserves the right to impose specific restrictions “if the epidemic situation were to get out of control in one of the Schengen countries”.