PARIS — France will begin to gradually ease up coronavirus lockdown measures, allowing retailers to reopen beginning Saturday as part of a three-step process that will lead into the next year — and just in time for the holiday spending season.
“The civic spirit that you have demonstrated has paid off,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a televised address late Tuesday, noting that the daily number of infections of COVID-19 had come down from the second-wave peak of over 60,000 a day to around 20,000 cases a day last week.
Retailers will be allowed to return to business starting Nov. 28, with strict sanitary measures and a curfew of 9 p.m.
After days of negotiations with the French government, retailers in the country last week agreed to postpone Black Friday sales for a week. Tensions have run high during the current lockdown period as the country enters the crucial holiday spending period.
The French retail sector has been hit hard by the pandemic. Printemps department store unveiled a broad restructuring plan earlier this month that will result in store closures and hundreds of layoffs, and the industry is bracing for further job cuts. Financial tensions and shareholder discontent at French shopping mall operator Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield resulted in the ouster of its chief executive officer last week. This week, shopkeepers and restaurant workers held demonstrations to protest lockdown measures.
The second stage of reopening is scheduled to begin Dec. 15, when cinemas, museums and theaters will resume activity. People will also be allowed to move around the country during the end-of-year period. The reopening of ski resorts, which could take place in January, remains under discussion, and the government will coordinate with neighboring countries, Macron added.
A curfew will be imposed between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. during this period, except for Dec. 24 and 31.
Further restrictions could be lifted from Jan. 20, including reopening high schools and universities.
The government has extended unemployment benefits and financial assistance to individuals and offered loans to companies. Bars, restaurants and gyms, which will not be allowed to reopen before the final phase in January, will be offered an aid package totaling 20 percent of 2019 revenue, or a lump sum of 10,000 euros.
The government’s 100 billion euro stimulus package is geared at rebuilding the economy and creating employment.