France to unveil end-of-lockdown plan within 2 weeks

France will unveil within two weeks a plan to progressively lift restrictions on travel and business that aim 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 said 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 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 told the nation on Monday that confinement measures would be extended to May 11. Philippe declined to provide specifics on the plan to end the lockdown.

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 about 10% in 2020, Philippe said. That's more than the 8% projection given by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on April 14.

"The goal of the government at this time is to save what can be saved now in order to rebound tomorrow. We have to make sure to not lose our productive base," Philippe said as he detailed France's arsenal to keep the frozen economy afloat "amid the strongest recession since 1945."

"When the crisis is over, we need to think about a recovery plan," he added.

Ending the lockdown period will depend on the circulation of the virus, and capacity at French hospitals, Philippe said. As of now, 10 infected people only infect 6 others on average, according to the prime minister.

"We'll have to learn how to live with the virus," he said, adding that no vaccine would be available before 2021, "maybe even later."

"This leaves us with one instrument: Prevention." This includes social-distancing measures and isolating virus-carriers at their homes, or at hotels. Wearing a mask could become mandatory in public transport, and the prime minister encouraged employees to keep working remotely.




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