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a clock tower on top of a building: View of the Trocadero square by the Eiffel Tower in Paris on the last day of France’s eight-week lockdown, May 10, 2020
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View of the Trocadero square by the Eiffel Tower in Paris on the last day of France’s eight-week lockdown, May 10, 2020
The streets of Paris remained deserted today ahead of the easing of France’s draconian eight-week lockdown tomorrow, amid signs that the public have been spooked into house confinement.
On the final day of what has been one of mainland Europe’s toughest responses to coronavirus, the streets around the Eiffel Tower, down the Champs Elysees and the Avenue de l’Opera were ghost-like.
The few people who left their homes wore face masks or went for a once daily form of exercise. A police officer even made time to take a picture of the Arc de Triomphe.
Ahead of the government’s lifting of lockdown alongside Belgium, France reported another 70 coronavirus deaths today. Today’s figures are the lowest since lockdown began on March 17.
Meanwhile Emmanuel Macron’s opinion polls have fallen during the crisis. Around March 19, the French President enjoyed a 51 per cent approval rating according to a poll conducted by Harris Interactive.
By the end of March (30-31), Mr Macron’s approval ratings had fallen to 39 per cent with a disapproval rating of 57 per cent according to a poll conducted by Elabe as the death toll rose.
According to an Ifop-Fiducial April 30 poll, the President’s approval rating had risen from the late March slump to 40 per cent, though this remains nearly 10 per cent lower than when he imposed the lockdown.
Tomorrow, hair salons, clothes shops, florists and bookshops will open again. Bars, restaurants, theatres and cinemas will remain closed, and primary schools will take small numbers of pupils.
Face masks will be compulsory as the public uses public transport again to get back to work.
Men, women and children of all ages will be allowed to move outside without having to present a form on demand. But people will only be able to go 60 miles from their home.
There are concerns within the population that the Macron government’s lockdown is being lifted too quickly. One bookshop manager from Lyon said he was ‘scared to death’ about reopening.
‘It’s a big responsibility to have to protect my staff and my customers’, he added.
Many parents are also torn over whether or not to send their children back to school, in a sign that – like in Britain – the French government’s coronavirus messaging has been too effective.
The eight-week lockdown in France ‘worked and saved thousands of lives’, officials have claimed.
France’s health ministry argued one of the most draconian lockdowns in Europe saved many more lives as 70 coronavirus deaths were reported today.
Today’s toll was the lowest announced since Marcy 17, the day the lockdown in France began. Saturday had also seen a record low toll of 80 deaths.
France tomorrow will emerge from lockdown, although many restrictions will remain in place nationwide.
‘Our efforts during the lockdown worked and saved thousands of lives,’ said the health ministry.
‘They need to succeed so that this new phase succeeds,’ it said, warning the epidemic is ‘active and evolving’.
Preschools and elementary schools are set to start up at first, and classes will be capped at 10 students at preschools and 15 elsewhere. Administrators were told to prioritise instruction for children ages 5, 6 and 10.
Due to the slow startup, as well as ongoing fears about Covid-19, school attendance will not be compulsory right away. Parents and guardians may keep children at home if they prefer. Students with parents who want or need to send them to school are not guaranteed places in the smaller classes and only will be allowed to attend if their school can accommodate them.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer estimated that 80 per cent to 85 per cent of France’s 50,500 preschools and elementary schools will open this week. Junior high schools in regions with fewer virus cases are expected to reopen on May 18. A target date hasn’t been scheduled yet for for high schools.
Given the ambiguous education guidance and uncertainties over spreading coronavirus, French parents are conflicted as they puzzle over making the most responsible decision. Cecile Bardin, whose two sons are 6 and 2, said she thinks it is ‘too soon’ to put them back in their nursery and primary schools in Paris.
‘I am not reassured at the moment, because it will be very difficult to keep safe distance at school, especially for the little ones, who will want to play together,’ she said.
Mathilde Manaud and her partner are raising their 3-year-old and 7-year-old in Le Pre Saint-Gervais, in the French capital’s eastern suburbs. They agreed to send the children kids back to school if there are spaces.
‘Truth is, we don’t know whether we are right to do so or no, we don’t know if it’s a mistake. We ask ourselves this question every day, and we change our mind every day,’ Ms Manaud said. ‘We are trying to convince ourselves that if they are reopening, they assume they can handle the situation.’
Returning students will find their classrooms running differently. Teachers will wear masks and remind children to social distance from each other and to wash their hands several times a day.
Mr Macron sought to reassure parents and teachers while visiting an elementary school in a town west of Paris last week. Macron said schools would reopen gradually because he wants ‘things done well.’
School director Mathieu Morel warned the president that ‘children remain children. There are spontaneous moves which are hard to prevent.’ The school expects about 50 children out of an enrolled 181 to come back this week.
Some mayors in France have refused to reopen local schools. Michele Berthy, mayor of the town of Montmorency north of Paris, sent parents a letter saying the government’s health guidelines were ‘unenforceable.’
‘Although I’m for the relaunch of our economy, I am certain that public health must remain our priority,’ he wrote.
Mayors in other areas set local restrictions on enrolment, such as limiting school access to children of essential workers such as police officers and health care providers, and to families whose living conditions are precarious.
That’s the situation in Paris, where Ingrid Rousseau hoped to send the youngest of her two children, who is 6, back to school. She doesn’t know if her son will be allowed to go, even though both she and partner are working.
‘I don’t feel quite up to the job of teaching,’ she said. ‘We are swamped. We don’t have enough time.’
Paris officials estimate about 15 per cent of the city’s students will be able to go back to school. Other towns and cities think they can serve about half of the children normally in preschool and elementary school.
Scientists are still split on the role that children play in transmitted the new coronavirus, which has infected over 176,000 people in France, killing at least 26,300 of them, according to government figures.
Health officials have repeatedly said that children appear to be the demographic that is among the least-affected by Covid-19. The World Health Organisation has reported that children seem to mostly suffer only mild symptoms, although some severe cases and deaths have been recorded as the virus continues to spread globally.
Other infectious disease experts say while children can acquire the virus and may be infectious, it’s clear they are not super-spreaders of Covid-19 as they are believed to be with influenza.
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