France plans to lift travel restrictions and ease a nationwide curfew on May 2 on expectations that daily Covid-19 cases will soon begin falling, but new entry restrictions on travellers from India will be imposed to fight the spread of a contagious coronavirus variant, a government official said.
President Emmanuel Macron also intends to stick to a goal of allowing restaurants to serve patrons outdoors from mid-May, while also reopening cinemas, theatres and museums with reduced capacity, a source close to the presidency told AFP.
Non-food businesses will also open their doors mid-May, after Macron announced their closure from April 3 to contain a third wave of coronavirus infections that have again pushed hospitals to the brink.
The restrictions on travel from India come in addition to those previously announced regarding three other countries - Brazil, Argentina and Chile - that will be implemented starting from Saturday.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal confirmed Wednesday that France would lift its ban on domestic travel as planned on May 3, but said it would maintain its nighttime curfew, now in place from 7pm to 6am.
Non-essential shops, closed since the partial lockdown of the country at the beginning of April, won't reopen before mid-May, he said.
France suspended all flights from Brazil earlier this month in an effort to curb the spread of a new Covid-19 variant found in the South American country. The temporary measure is to be replaced Saturday by tight travel restrictions regarding a list of now five countries, including a mandatory 10-day quarantine with police checks to ensure people arriving in France observe the requirement.
France is also requiring more stringent testing for the coronavirus on travellers from these countries, who will need to pass a mandatory antigen test upon their arrival, in addition to a pre-boarding PCR test.
Macron ordered school closures for April to slow the outbreak, but kindergarten and primary school students are set to return on Monday, and older students on May 3.
Restaurants, cafes and bars have been shut since October 30, causing anguish for owners despite massive financial support from the government to offset the lost revenue and limit layoffs.
'Precious weeks of liberty'
Macron will chair a meeting with top ministers Wednesday to evaluate the government's efforts to combat the crisis.
The prospect of relief from the quasi-lockdown reflects the government's conviction that the number of daily Covid cases will fall to around 20,000 within a month, the source said.
Macron is also betting that France will meet its target of vaccinating 20 million people with at least one dose by mid-May, up from 13 million currently.
On Tuesday, health authorities reported 43,098 cases over the previous 24 hours, and 375 deaths, bringing the country's total to 101,597.
Macron drew fire from political opponents as well as health experts early this year when he decided against a new lockdown, bucking a European trend.
He defended the move by saying France and its economy had gained "precious weeks of liberty", but surging cases forced his hand in April, though he stopped short of ordering people to stay home or avoid socialising completely.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)