By Benoit Van Overstraeten and Geert De Clercq
In a first step towards ending a third nation-wide lockdown, which has been in place since early April, Jean Castex said schools would reopen on Monday and people would be able to travel all over the country after being confined to their own region and within 10 km of their residence.
He also said some businesses and cultural venues, as well as the open-air terraces of bars and restaurants might be allowed to reopen around mid-May if the COVID-19 situation is improving.
“The third wave of the disease is behind us,” Castex told a news conference.
Health ministry data on Thursday showed the circulation of the virus had slowed slightly, but the country still registered 34,318 new infections.
While this was the lowest week-on-week rise since March 13, the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 nonetheless rose by 22 to 5,981 people, the second-highest total of 2021.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that to prevent the arrival of more contagious variants of the virus, a 10-day quarantine will be imposed from Saturday for travellers arriving from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India and South Africa.
He said travellers will have to provide proof of where they will be quarantined and there will be controls.
People in quarantine will be allowed to go outside only between 10 and 12 noon and fines for breach of quarantine will be as high as 1,500 euros.
Castex said 14 million people will have received a first vaccination shot by end of this week and 20 million by mid-May.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said the government was considering granting early access to COVID-19 vaccine to people suffering from obesity, possibly from mid-May.
From Monday, people living with someone at high risk of catching COVID-19 will also get access to vaccine. (Editing by Catherine Evans and Barbara Lewis)