President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that France had marked its first victory in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, ending much of its lockdown but adding that he would "draw the lessons" from a crisis that has killed nearly 30,000 people in the country. — AFP/VNA Photo
PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron has said that France had marked its first victory in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, ending much of its lockdown but adding that he would "draw the lessons" from a crisis that has killed nearly 30,000 people in the country.
"The fight against the epidemic is not finished but I am happy about this first victory against the virus," Macron said on Sunday in an address to the nation, his fourth since COVID-19 cases began surging in March.
He said all of mainland France, including Paris, would go into a "green zone" of a lower state of alert starting on Monday, meaning cafes and restaurants in the French capital could open in full and not just on terraces.
The announcement will be a relief for restaurants in the French capital and its suburbs, after officials signalled last week that their reopening might not come before June 22.
Only the overseas territories of Mayotte and French Guiana will remain at the "orange" alert level, with high numbers of cases still posing a threat to strained hospital systems.
Macron also said that all French schools, except high schools, would fully reopen from June 22, a move that will allow more parents to return to work and give students at least a few days with their teachers before the summer break.
Family visits will also be allowed from Monday at retirement homes, which have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 29,000 people in France, though the number of new infections has slowed markedly in recent days.
"As soon as tomorrow we will be able to turn the page on this first chapter across all our territory," Macron said.
The president also confirmed that the second round of municipal elections originally set for March when the government imposed the lockdown against the virus, would go ahead as planned on June 28.
But mass gatherings will remain "tightly controlled" for now, since "they are the main occasions for spreading the virus," he said.
'Exposed our shortcomings'
Macron said the government had mobilised an "unprecedented" 500 billion euros (US$563 billion) in financial aid and relief to prevent layoffs and support key sectors including aviation, automobiles, restaurants and tourism.
"With this epidemic, the global economy has come to a virtual standstill.
Our first priority will be to rebuild an economy that is strong, ecological, sovereign and united," he said.
But the French leader acknowledged that "this challenge has also exposed our shortcomings and weaknesses, our dependence on other continents for certain products, our organisational handicaps, our social and territorial inequalities," he said.
That effort will include "massive investments" to educate and train young people and ensure they find work, a nod to growing worries that an entire generation of students could see their futures jeopardised by the fallout of the crisis.
Macron said that widespread consultations would be carried out with civil society in the coming weeks on how best to respond, and that he would again address the French people in July.
"We need to create new jobs by investing in our technological, digital, industrial and agricultural independence," he said.
Coronavirus deaths in Chile
Chile's new health minister announced on Sunday that the country's official death toll will include suspected cases, which could double the current figure.
Enrique Paris also said that quarantine measures in the Santiago metropolitan region would be extended "at least through June" after Chile recorded nearly 7,000 new cases in the last 24 hours.
The Chilean government will add "the probable deaths" from the coronavirus to the epidemiological report that is published twice a week, Paris, a pediatrician and toxicologist, told a press conference.
Later Sunday, in an interview with the newspaper La Tercera, Paris said that "in June comes the worst, I think. Or very bad”.
"The first two weeks of July, I think we're going to keep the numbers up," he said. "I think that only in August, God willing, will we see the efforts of the quarantine rewarded, if people comply with them."
Paris took office on Saturday after his predecessor Jaime Manalich resigned amid controversy over Chile's official coronavirus death toll.
The government has said publicly that the crisis has claimed more than 3,000 lives since the first case emerged in Chile on March 3.
However, a report published on Saturday by an investigative journalism organisation called CIPER revealed that Chile had informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the death toll was actually more than 5,000.
Sunday's official report added 6,938 new infections and 222 deaths, bringing the total to 174,293 infected and 3,323 dead.
China reports 49 more virus cases
Chinese health officials reported 49 new coronavirus cases on Monday, including 36 more in the capital Beijing where a fresh cluster linked to a wholesale food market has fuelled fears of a second wave of infections.
The domestic outbreak in China - where the disease first emerged last year - had largely been brought under control but then a fresh batch of cases was detected in the capital last week.
In addition to the new Beijing cases, the National Health Commission said there were three confirmed cases in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing.
Beijing has begun mass testing workers at the Xinfadi food market, as well as those who live nearby and anyone who visited it in recent weeks.
Officials have said they plan to carry out virus tests on 46,000 residents in the area. More than 10,000 people have been tested already.
Eleven residential neighbourhoods near the market have been put under lockdown, and several cities have warned residents not to travel to Beijing.
Authorities are also stepping up efforts to trace those who have visited the market, with companies and neighbourhood communities messaging staff and residents to ask about their recent movements.
There were also 10 imported cases on Monday, which have accounted for the majority of China's cases in recent months as overseas nationals return home. — AFP