Paris is bustling as the government eased COVID-19 measures on Monday after a near two-month lockdown.
Parents walk their children to school and shoppers are out buying goods. Buses and metro services are running once again.
But de-confinement must, government officials warn, happen slowly and carefully to avoid a second wave of infection.
The highly infectious virus has gripped the country and most of Europe for the past two months, causing President Emmanuel Macron to impose a lockdown on March 17, confining people at home, shutting schools, and forcing all non-essential businesses to close until further notice.
The death toll in France from the novel virus has crossed 26,000.
The lifting of lockdown, however, does not mean total freedom of movement.
The French government has drawn up a map that has divided the country into two zones — green for low-risk and red for high-risk. Paris and Ile-de-France, along with northeastern France, are in the red zone.
– Social distancing rules apply
In a tweet on the eve of lifting the lockdown, Macron said: “Thanks to you, the virus has receded. But it is still there. Save lives. Stay careful.”
He said social distancing rules still apply to society at large, particularly on the wearing of face masks on public transport. Non-compliance carries a fine of €135 ($146).
Attestation slips will no longer be needed in public within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of one’s residence.
Public transport — bus, metro, and suburban rail lines — will run at three-fourths of capacity, with 60 out of 302 metro lines remaining closed. High-speed SNCF regional rail lines will operate at only one-third of capacity.
Passengers on public transport will be limited, with workers required to carry a letter from their employer if commuting during rush hour. A full 400,000 companies in the capital are slated to open on Monday bringing back 875,000 workers. Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire has encouraged telecommuting where possible.
Transport officers will hand out 10 million masks at stations throughout Paris for passengers without one.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has opened up 50 km of bike lanes throughout the city to encourage bicycle use and keep cars and traffic at bay.
– Ban on large gatherings
Gatherings of more than 10 people are still forbidden nationwide, with bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels, and cinemas shut until early June.
Most other shops will reopen Monday, save for large department stores and shopping centers, with protocols for doing so being negotiated with unions.
Floors in train and metro stations, grocery stores, and many other establishments are marked off with tape to delineate the social distancing still very necessary to stem the spread of infection.
Primary schools reopened Monday, with middle schools set to open on May 18, in green zones only. High school and university students will resume classes in the coming weeks.
France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had promised in late April to start testing the population from May 11 at the rate of 700,000 per week, but collective testing is still not near this number.
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