France set for 2nd relaxation of lockdown, PM praised progress against virus

Paris, May 28 (efe-epa).- Almost all of France is set to pass to the second stage of relaxing the harsh lockdown as prime minister Édouard Philippe on Thursday said progress against Covid-19 in the country, one Europe’s worst-affected, had been “better than expected.”

The capital Paris was downgraded from red alert to orange, where it joined the overseas departments of Mayotte and French Guiana, but all other territories were deemed safe enough to progress to green.

“The virus remains present in all of the territory, but the speed of contagion at this moment is under control,” the head of government said in a televised speech.

“We are where we had wanted to be at the end of May and are even doing a bit better than we had hoped.”

The move means that, from 2 June, bars, cafes and restaurants can open their doors to the public once more.

In the capital, however, restaurants will be limited to opening outside seating areas. Paris’ coronavirus status will be reviewed on 22 June.

Secondary schools, museums and monuments outside Paris will also be allowed to reopen.

Travel restrictions limiting journeys to no more than 100 kilometers have also been lifted across the nation.

Cinemas will be able to reopen from 22 June and gardens and public spaces across France can welcome visitors from the weekend although social gatherings will still be capped at 10 people.

France has been one of Europe’s worst-hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, registering almost 28,600 deaths.

As a result of the lockdown, unemployment grew by 22.6 percent in April, meaning there were 843,000 more people out of work, bringing the total in the country to 4,575,500.

It was the biggest-ever increase recorded in the space of a month, the employment ministry said in a statement.

In the space of three months from February to April, there were 1,065,200 people registered as newly unemployed.

The French statistics office (INSEE) on Wednesday estimated that GDP had fallen 5.8 percent in the first quarter of the year and that it would drop 20 percent in the second.

France’s lockdown came into effect on 16 March.

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