Emmanuel Macron has lifted most of France’s remaining coronavirus lockdown restrictions and said he would focus on rebuilding the crisis-stricken economy in the last two years of his presidency.
In a televised speech to the nation from the Elysée Palace — his fourth such address on the Covid-19 pandemic since March — Mr Macron said all French schools would fully reopen for compulsory attendance under normal rules from June 22.
Most other restrictions would end from Monday June 15, except in the overseas territories of Mayotte and French Guiana. Limits on large gatherings will remain.
The easing means the full reopening of Paris bars and restaurants that have been restricted to serving customers on outdoor terraces. Travel within Europe will also begin to return to normal on Monday, with long-distance international travel restarting on July 1.
“From tomorrow, we will be able to turn the page on the crisis that we have lived through,” Mr Macron said. “This does not mean that the virus has completely disappeared or that we can lower our guard . . . but like you I am happy about this victory over the virus.”
More than 29,000 people have died from Covid-19 in France since March 1, but the number of new admissions to hospitals fell sharply after two months of confinement from mid-March to mid-May, and fatalities from the virus have recently dropped to about 25 per day.
Mr Macron said the country had no reason to be ashamed of its record in tackling the pandemic. “Tens of thousands of lives have been saved by our decisions, our actions.”
Mr Macron said the priority now was to relaunch the economy — which is expected to shrink by more than 10 per cent this year — to make it “strong, environmental, sovereign and with solidarity”.
The state, he said, had mobilised €500bn in economic support — a figure that includes €300bn of loan guarantees to keep businesses afloat. That would increase public sector debt, he said, while ruling out tax increases to finance the extra spending.
“The only response is to build a sustainable and stronger economic model, to work and produce more so as not to depend on others. And we must do all this even as the country faces bankruptcies and multiple lay-offs as a result of the shutdown of the global economy.”
Mr Macron, who previously promised to “reinvent” himself in the light of the coronavirus crisis, said he would lay out more detailed plans in July for the rest of his presidency after consulting widely.
But he made clear that he would seek to decentralise government by “rebalancing powers and responsibilities”. He said: “I have the deeply held conviction that the organisation of the state and of our actions must change profoundly. Not everything can be decided so often in Paris.”
Mr Macron also alluded to recent protests in Paris triggered by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minnesota. He said his government would stand firm against racism and anti-Semitism, but he also expressed support for the French police and said France would not knock down its statues or erase its history.