French shop owners pressure Macron to lighten virus 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 may 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 probably have to wait until next year to savor wine and cheese in a local cafe.

President Emmanuel Macron is expected to lay out new rules Tuesday in France’s virus strategy, after he imposednationwide 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 situation remains tense, however, with hundreds of virus-related deaths per day. Doctors are warning the government 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.”

Under pressure from merchants who want to recoup some of this year’s losses during the Christmas shopping season, the government may allow non-essential stores to reopen on Dec. 1, according to government spokesman Gabriel Attal. Restaurants, however, aren’t expected to get the green light until January.

A big question is what Macron will announce about the end-of-year holidays. Currently everyone in France needs a permission slip to leave their homes and no leisure travel is allowed, although schools and some workplaces remain open.

Salomon suggested a compromise: “You can go see Grandma and Grandpa at Christmas, but don’t eat with them. If I give the virus to Grandma and Grandpa, that’s the worst thing of all. How would I live with that afterward?”

The French lockdown will be eased in three phases, “in view of the health situation and of the risks tied to some businesses,” Attal told the Journal du dimanche newspaper. “What is at stake is adapting lockdown rules as the health situation improves while avoiding a new flare-up.”

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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