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Macron outlines France's baby steps out of lockdown

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A student of the Emile Dubois high school takes part to a COVID-19 antigen test in Paris, Monday Nov. 23, 2020. Experts said they are less accurate than the standard PCR test, which detects even the tiniest genetic trace of the virus. Many governments including in France have started deploying them as a precursor to PCR tests.( Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

People in France will be able to go back to their favorite shops and attend religious services again next week after a month of partial virus lockdown — but they’ll have to wait until at least Jan. 20 to savor a meal in a restaurant or enjoy a gym workout.

President Emmanuel Macron laid out new rules Tuesday in France’s virus strategy, after imposing nationwide restrictions last month as virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths surged around Europe.

France’s infection rate per 100,000 people is now less than a third of what it was when November began, and the number of people in hospitals and intensive care has been trending downward for a week.

“The peak of the second wave is over,” Macron announced in a televised address to the nation.

The situation remains tense, however, with hundreds of virus-related deaths per day, so the cautious emergence from the lockdown reflects that.

On Dec. 15, some museums and cinemas will be allowed to open, and the nationwide stay-at-home rules loosened. France will re-introduce its 9pm curfew, and the strict associated fines. Macron said that the will curfew be waived for Christmas eve and New Year's eve. On Jan. 20, and only if daily infections drop below the 5,000 mark, restaurants and gyms will be allowed to re-open.

Currently everyone in France needs a permission slip to leave their home and no leisure travel is allowed, although schools and some workplaces remain open.

The government ruled in line with doctors who warned not to relax restrictions too fast and repeat the mistakes France made as it emerged from a lockdown in the spring with no clear policy on masks and limited testing capacity.

“If we let go too quickly, the virus will circulate again too quickly,” Remi Salomon, head of the medical commission at the Paris hospital authority, told broadcaster France-Info on Tuesday.

Wearing legwarmers, cummerbunds or headgear made of surgical masks, owners of shops, restaurants and bars marched through Lyon on Monday to demand permission to reopen. Some threw red flares and one held a sign reading simply: “No Future.”

France has reported more infections than any country in Europe and 49,232 virus-related deaths, among the highest tolls in the world.

France’s announcement comes the day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said haircuts, shopping trips and visits to the pub will be back on the agenda for millions next week when a four-week lockdown in England ends on Dec. 2.

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