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French PM fills in the details on ending lockdown, warns progress is fragile

The French prime minister has held a press conference to detail the government’s step-by-step approach to handling the Covid-19 epidemic, following Tuesday’s televised address by President Emmanuel Macron. Jean Castex explained that the easing of lockdown measures in the coming weeks can be rolled out only if citizens act responsibly. Since 30 October, France has been under its second Covid-19 lockdown.Restrictions are about to be relaxed, on a gradual basis, according to a three-step timeline set out by President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday during a televised address and detailed by Prime Minister Jean Castex on Thursday.”The first results are there,” the prime minister confirmed, but he called on citizens to “not drop their guard” and said it was “too early” to announce a total easing of lockdown.Sante Public France said the “encouraging” statistics “should not make us forget that, pending the availability of treatments and vaccines, the only way to slow the pandemic and lessen its impact on the health system is still to adopt individual prevention measures, combined with collective efforts.”The easing of lockdown measures will come into effect on three key dates.Saturday, 28 NovemberNon-essential shops and services will be able to reopen. Included are driving schools, libraries and real-estate agencies, each limiting the number of customers to one for every 8 sq metres.Churches can reopen, but for only 30 people at one time. This number will be reassessed mid-December.People will be able to move around freely within 20 km of their residence, and for a maximum of three hours.15 DecemberA curfew from 9pm -7am will come into effect as of 15 December, with exceptions made for the 24 and 31 December.From thisdate, the exemption certificate will no longer be mandatory, except for hours outside the curfew.Theatres, museums and cinemas will be able to reopen from 15 December, with some exceptions made for evening performances with regards to the curfew.ChristmasCastex warned that celebrating Christmas won’t be like years gone by. Small family meals on a limited scale is “imperative” he said.Although freedom of movement will allow families and friends to reunite, Castex said it was “not for people to have large parties,” adding that further recommendations on this organisation would be forthcoming.The government has said it is consulting with its EU partners to coordinate reopening dates for ski resorts.Castex said businesses effected by the extended closures will be eligible for economic assistance.20 JanuaryRestaurants will most likely be able to re-open from 20 January – but bars will have to wait. This comes with the caveat that the epidemic is under control.Sports clubs will be able to re-open.Highschool students will be able to go return to their classes in full groups, but universities will have to wait until the end of January to host students.Castex insisted that remote working is to remain a priority for employees, wherever possible.Economic measuresEconomic aid will be offered to temporary workers, those in seasonal jobs and those who depend on occasional contracts in the entertainment industry.The government proposes a “guarantee of 900 euros per month” until February 2021 for those people who have worked at least 60 percent of 2019.People in the 16-25 age group, in financial difficulty who don’t have any job or studies or training will benefit from government support through 2021.Health minister Olivier Veran concluded that “things are better,” but the second wave is far from over.While the number of patients in hospital for Covid has dropped below 30,000, there were still 16,000 new infections reported on Wednesday, far from the 5,000 daily rate that Macron has targeted in order to ease lockdown further.Vaccine on the horizonCastex also announced on Thursday that the “strategy” for the roll out of vaccinations would be presented next week as part of the new “test + alert + protect + care” campaign.Castex said vaccination could start at the end of December, or the beginning of January.Three vaccines are currently undergoing final testing.

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