French way of life to resume with restaurants reopening

PARIS — The French way of life is set to largely resume next week, with most virus-related restrictions easing as the country prepares for the summer holiday season amid the pandemic.

In a speech on Thursday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe promised that “freedom will, at last, again become the rule.”

France is one of the world’s hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus and was under strict lockdown for two months before starting to ease restrictions on May 11. Authorities have reported at least 28,596 COVID-19-related deaths.

From June 2 restaurants and cafes will reopen, together with monuments and museums, concert halls and theaters, beaches, campsites, gyms and public swimming pools.

There’s a notable exception for the Paris region, the country’s worst-affected by the virus, where many facilities will have to wait until June 22 to reopen.

Philippe said the French are yearning for cafes and restaurants to reopen, noting that these “are part of our art of living.”

Diners will be no more than 10 to a table, with at least 1 meter (3 feet) separating each group. Clients will have to wear masks when they move around the restaurant and staff will have to wear them all the time.

In the Paris region, only outdoor seating will be allowed.

Cinemas won’t reopen before June 22.

And as the summer holiday season looms, the French will be allowed again to travel freely across the country — instead of being limited to 100 kilometers (60 miles) from home now.

“You can move around, you can go on your annual holidays but it’s probably more reasonable to delay a long trip if that is possible,” Philippe said.

France aims at reopening its borders with other European countries on June 15, he said.

As France is the world’s most popular tourist destination, the government urged the French to book vacations at home this summer, in the hope it will help to relaunch the economy.

Philippe also pledged to revive “cultural and sport life.” Most shops reopened on May 11, and hotels are now awaiting clients.

Philippe defended the gradual lifting of the lockdown up to now, saying the strategy was meant to avoid triggering a second wave.

“The virus is still present,” but “under control at this stage,” Philippe said.

Yet “our biggest adversary is very big gatherings,” he warned.

Public gatherings larger than 10 people are still banned, contact sports are not allowed and night clubs and stadiums will remain closed.

Work-from-home is still recommended when possible.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said schools will open more broadly next week, with classes capped at 15 students. High schools, which were still closed, will also reopen next week.

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AP writer John Leicester contributed to the story.

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