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French PM to present strategy on ending virus lockdown

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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will on Tuesday present the national strategy for emerging from the coronavirus lockdown, his office told AFP.

His announcement at the National Assembly will be followed by a debate and a vote. An app for tracking contacts of confirmed cases is also due to be unveiled Tuesday and Sunday received approval, albeit conditional, from the country’s privacy watchdog.

Paris has identified 17 priorities for gradually bringing the country out of lockdown in a “controlled, progressive” manner from May 11.

These include reopening schools, companies returning to work, getting public transport back to normal, supplying masks and sanitiser, testing policy and support for the elderly.

However, the plans, drawn up by the government’s scientific advisors, have been questioned in some quarters, notably by schoolteacher unions who expressed doubt as to whether measures such as keeping classes strictly apart were feasible.

A dozen ministers will on Monday consult with representatives of local authorities to discuss various options.

France has been in lockdown since March 17 and the government faces a delicate balancing act to revive the economy without triggering a resurgence in the epidemic.

– Sagging support –
A Journal du Dimanche/Ifop opinion poll showed Sunday only 39 percent of people have confidence in the government’s ability to deal effectively with the virus, seven points down on last week.

The pandemic has killed 22,614 people in France since the start of March, with 369 new deaths recorded in the previous 24 hours, according to official figures released late Saturday, which saw a significant drop in-hospital deaths.

Under the government plans, travel within France would be permitted from May 11 — but travel abroad discouraged at least until the summer to minimise the risk of cross-border infection.

As many people as possible would be encouraged to continue working from home, notably to avoid a rush-hour crash with transport timetables staggered.

Wearing masks would be obligatory for students in secondary education as well as on public transport, with social distancing measures required in both cases.

But teacher unions expressed concern over social distancing guidelines with desks a minimum one metre (three feet) apart and a ban on contact across different year groups.

Government advisors, who say they would prefer schools to reopen only at the start of the new academic year in September, also suggest students eat at their desks “if possible” to reduce the risk of infection and that parents take a child’s temperature before school to indicate if they may have virus symptoms.

Classes would be closed and children placed in strict quarantine in the event of even one pupil testing positive.

– “Mission impossible” –
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said the proposals formed a solid basis for schools to resume operations.

Philippe Vincent, of the headteacher’s union SNPDEN, said he feared the government’s plans even for a gradual re-opening was “mission impossible.”

Government advisors say the elderly and those who have pre-existing chronic illnesses should stay at home in “strict, voluntary confinement” to reduce the risk of virus spread.

Large-scale public gatherings will remain banned, most likely through to mid-July as Macron suggested last week.

As the May 11 target nears, privacy watchdog CNIL on Sunday gave a conditional green light to a government-backed scheme to monitor virus sufferers — despite privacy and surveillance fears.

Smartphone users will be able to download a voluntary and anonymous smartphone app to see if they have been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive and is listed on the app register.