French cafes, restaurants, cinemas and other cultural venues and businesses that have been closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic will reopen in several stages from May 19, President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.
Museums, theatres, cinemas and concert halls will reopen on May 19, along with non-essential shops and outdoor seating at cafes and restaurants, Macron told regional French newspapers in a highly-anticipated announcement.
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Cafes and restaurants will have to wait until June 9, however, to be allowed to serve clients indoors, he added.
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Macron also give a timetable for lifting an unpopular night-time curfew which has turned French cities into ghost towns after 7:00 pm.
He said that the curfew would be progressively eased -- to 9:00 pm on May 19 and 11:00 pm on June 9 -- before being fully lifted on June 30.
France is nearing the end of a third national lockdown imposed to try and tame a severe third wave of infections.
Some restrictions have already been relaxed in recent days.
Primary schools reopened on Monday after a three-week shutdown, with secondary schools to follow suit next week, when restrictions on travel around the country will also be lifted.
But the French had been particularly anxious to know when the cafes and museums that are central to French culture, and which have been closed since October 30, would reopen.
Macron said it was time to start “resuming our French-style way of life,” citing the need for “conviviality,” culture and sport.
But people needed to remain “careful and responsible,” he said.
Macron, who is expected to seek re-election next year, drew strong criticism for rejecting calls by medical experts to order a third national lockdown in late January to bring down a stubbornly high coronavirus caseload.
Two months later he finally relented, but the third confinement period was more relaxed than others.
In the interview with regional media he defended his handling of the health crisis.
“We were enlightened by science and took the decision to prioritize the human aspect above all,” he said.
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