After successfully completing my 40-day quarantine, I decided to take a break from the daily posts and enjoy my screen-free weekend. But I’m back again – maybe we’ll stick to a weekly schedule now – to report back on the French government’s new strategy to gently ease the country out of confinement while still keeping us safe and healthy. One thing is for sure: Paris isn’t going to be welcoming international visitors by June…and possibly not until the fall.
“Protect, Test, and Isolate”
Today France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the government’s “deconfinement” plan for the gradual and progressive easing of the Covid-19 Lockdown measures. The rules will apply to the first three weeks of deconfinement starting May 11th and will be reviewed before the next progressive deconfinement date of June 2nd. Here are the main points:
There will be enough masks to distribute to the entire population starting May 11th, as well as 700,000 tests per week (paid in full by health insurance); anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days at home or in designated spaces (such as hotels requisitioned by the State). Elderly and at-risk populations are encouraged to continue to limit their contact with the public.
Kindergarten and elementary schools will open with a maximum of 15 students per class, and parents can choose to continue home schooling; middle school students will return starting May 18th if the department doesn’t have high contamination rates, and high schools won’t be opening before June 2nd. Daycares will be open for a maximum of 10 kids. Masks will be required for teachers and elementary school kids, but not the younger children.
Shops and open-air food markets will be allowed to open if they follow sanitary guidelines, and masks are recommended (shop owners can make them obligatory for customers), however the big shopping malls will be closed. Cafés, bars, and restaurants will have to wait until the end of May to know if they will be able to open in June.
Employers should provide employees with masks; partial unemployment measures will remain in place at least through June 1st. Telecommuting should be continued for the next three weeks and employers are encouraged to space out working hours when employees come back to work so public transport isn’t inundated at “rush hour”. Many construction sites have already re-opened (including at Notre Dame Cathedral).
Socializing & Sports
People can circulate freely outside and participate in outdoor activities and solo, non-contact sports (no sports allowed in confined spaces). Parks and gardens will only be reopened in “green departments” where there have been little-to-no cases of covid-19 cases (“red” and “green” departments will be officially designated starting May 11th). Beaches will not open before June. All gatherings will be limited to 10 people.
Small museums and libraries will reopen May 11th, however cinemas, theatres, and large museums will remain closed until June. No big cultural events of more than 5000 people (stadium sports and concert halls) will take place before September. Churches can remain open, but no ceremonies or weddings are allowed (funerals with no more than 20 attendees are still permitted).
Public & Private Transport
70% of the RATP (metro, trams, bus, RER) will be running; every other seat will be blocked off to maintain distancing; masks will be required on public transport as well as taxis and Ubers. There will be temporary bike paths following major RER lines as well as main metro axes (such as line 13and line 4) to ease the number of people using the public transport. Circulation between departments and anywhere further than 100km is still forbidden unless you have a work or urgent family justification (and an attestation will be required).
“If there’s a relapse in confinement and a rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations, the May 11th date will be pushed back,” warns the Prime Minister. That means we can’t allow ourselves to get lazy and start ignoring the confinement rules before May 11th, risking in a spike in Covid-19 after it has gone down for the past two weeks.
The Elephant in the Room: International Travel
Obviously there are still some specifics that will need to be worked out before May 11th, but if everyone behaves we are looking at a semi-normal day-to-day life in France starting June 2nd. Unfortunately, one topic that hasn’t even begun to enter deconfinement conversations is the question of international travel. Even travel within France is still not on the table, although the French (75% who tend to vacation within France anyway) are discussing among themselves whether they’re going to try the beach or the mountains, stay in a hotel or in a gîte, travel by train or travel by car. Air France has announced they may have 30% of their flights operational by July, but that doesn’t answer the question of when international visitors can return to Paris.
What Would a Tourist-Free Parisian Summer Look Like?
This, dear readers, has sparked a curiously titillating idea: Paris without any tourists for the first summer since…? Can you imagine Paris with no Americans, no Chinese, no Russians, no Brazilians…possibly not even Brits even if the Europeans themselves are allowed in? Of course the same would be true of any touristy town in the world. Would being able to enjoy your city without tourists for the first time in modern history be enough to make up for the lockdown? Would Parisians all flock to the countryside and beaches in August as usual and leave the city a virtual ghost town? I know a lot of people think Paris “closes” in August anyway, but even if certain restaurants and shops used to close for several weeks, the museums were always open, and they were always crowded. Will Disneyland Paris reopen to the French before France opens its borders to the world? Will the lack of tourists all summer long mean the “tourist traps” go out of business? (As much as I like that idea, I don’t exactly want my local restaurant inundated by the kinds of people who usually frequent tourist traps, d’oh!)
The Silver Lining
Of course I don’t mean to come off as cruel or (eek!) smug. Like many of you who have had to cancel or postpone your Paris trips, I’ve had to cancel my own trip with friends to Italy this June, and won’t be able to welcome American friends who were planning on visiting me here. But I’m actually secretly looking forward to enjoying Paris with the Parisians (and French tourists), just to see what it’s like. Perhaps it will give me the chance to check back in on so many of the museums and historic sites I’ve been avoiding for years because of the crowds. I promise to report back (without seeming too gleeful of your absence).
Cute Paris Pic of the Day
In the meantime, enjoy the photos taken by the Père Lachaise caretaker of the baby foxes running freely through the overgrown Parisian cemetery since the lockdown, shared on the Instagram of the Deputy Mayor of Paris, Pénélope Komitès: https://twitter.com/PKOMITES/status/1254055099506192386
Stay inside, stay healthy! – Heather