France is past the dreaded third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the overall health situation is improving, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday while announcing the much-awaited gradual re-opening of the country in May.
“The health situation is improving in our country,” Castex said at a news conference. “The peak of the third wave seems behind us.”
The rosy picture was painted even though the latest data on the number of new cases and patients at the intensive care unit indicated the contrary.
Currently, 30,634 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, of which 5,981 are in intensive care units.
As of late Thursday, there were 34,318 new cases and 285 deaths, according to data from the public health ministry.
Castex said, there has been a decrease in the number of COVID-19 positive patients by 27% in one week in 80 departments where cases were on the rise. And the number of patients admitted to intensive care to have “reached a plateau in recent days.”
As declared earlier, schools and colleges are set to re-open on May 3, raising concerns among teachers and parents that there is no change in the health protocol, except for saliva testing for students. In case of even one infected student, the class must observe quarantine for seven days.
A nationwide curfew at 7 p.m., however, will continue to be enforced until further notice.
Despite early improvements, residents should exercise caution, Castex warned, adding that concerns about the British variant, which is more contagious and difficult to fight, was still circulating even if there is a drop in the figures compared to November.
Castex also confirmed the gradual reopening of public places in stages, “given the still fragile health context.”
By mid-May, he said it may be possible to reopen non-essential commercial establishments, shops, cultural places, sports centers and terraces, or outdoor seating areas of cafes, restaurants. Cinemas, theaters, museums, cultural institutions, swimming pools, indoor sports centers, gymnasiums, dining in cafes, restaurants have been closed since October.
Meanwhile, from Saturday there will be a reinforced control system for arrivals from Guyana, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and India — countries battling high a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said air travelers will have to undergo a compulsory 10-day quarantine and will be required to provide proof of the scheduled place for isolation while boarding.
Offenders breaking isolation rules can face a fine of 1,000 to 1,500 euros ($1,187 to $1,781).
France will also start administering the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine for those older than 55 years of age during the weekend.
Castex and Health Minister Olivier Veran also appealed to residents once again to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine amid prevailing hesitancy about blood clots.
Nearly 18,730,000 people have been vaccinated in France with 13,526,306 receiving the first shot and 5,200,790 getting both doses.
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