French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday that the blockade imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus in France has saved tens of thousands of lives, but that it was time to ease restrictions to prevent economic collapse.
The death toll in France exceeded 23,000 on Monday, the fourth highest in the world behind the United States, Italy and Spain.
But the government is now looking to take advantage of falling infection rates to rescue a free-falling economy, although Philippe said the French would have to adapt to a new way of life.
"We are going to have to learn to live with the virus," Philippe told parliament Tuesday when he began outlining measures to gradually ease the blockade. "We must learn to live with and protect ourselves from Covid-19."
Philippe's government faces a delicate balancing act, eager to alleviate the growing frustration of people hiding in their homes since mid-March without increasing the risk of a second wave of infections if France moves too fast.
France would begin to pull out of the blockade on May 11, unless it is not safe to do so, Philippe said.
"If the indicators are not correct, we will not unroll the blockade on May 11, or we will do it more strictly," he said.
By then, France would have the capacity to perform 700,000 tests per week, the French prime minister continued. The state would cover the full cost of the tests.
Philippe's speech will be followed by a debate and a vote in the evening, with only 75 of the 577 legislators of the French National Assembly sitting in the chamber to respect the rules of social distancing.
French football, rugby disconnects until September
Meanwhile, the French prime minister also announced that professional sports leagues, including soccer and rugby, cannot be restarted before September due to coronavirus restrictions.
The news is also likely to affect the Tour de France, as they will embark from Nice on August 29 and where large crowds would be expected to crowd the departure and arrival lines.
"The 2019-2020 professional sports leagues, especially soccer, cannot yet be restarted," Philippe announced.
"I would like to be precise here, a large sports gathering or a gathering of 5,000 or more people, who need permission from the local police and prior arrangements, will not be allowed before September," said Philippe.
The announcement seems to spoil plans for French football's Ligue 1 first division to start again in June and the players will be withdrawn from the market starting May 11.