PARIS – Ignoring calls by retailers to allow them to reopen by May 10, President Emmanuel Macron has laid out a calendar for a gradual unwinding of the third lockdown in France, starting on May 19, when shops, cinemas, theaters and museums will be allowed to reopen, alongside the terraces of cafes, bars and restaurants.
At that date, the nationwide curfew will be pushed back to 9 p.m. from 7 p.m., but it won’t be totally lifted until June 30. Macron made the announcement in an interview with several regional newspapers published on Friday.
Likewise, any reopening is conditional on local coronavirus incidence rates dropping below 400 per 100,000 residents. The incidence rate measures the ratio of people – calculated over a week – who have tested positive for the first time in more than 60 days, compared with the overall population.
At current rates, the Paris region would not be allowed to reopen, meaning the data will be closely scrutinized in coming weeks.
The government’s decision scuppers the sector’s hopes of reopening in time for the long weekend of Ascension, between May 13 and May 16. More than 150,000 stores have been closed since April 3.
While some lamented the delay, others welcomed finally having a fixed date for reopening.
“Given that the health data and vaccination are going in the right direction, the president took the right decision. We are truly happy,” Jacques Ehrmann, president of the National Association of Shopping Centers, told news channel BFMTV.
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He applauded the government for allowing shopping centers to reopen at the same time as other stores. “It’s not as good as May 10, which we were hoping for, or May 13, but it’s frankly better than we feared it might be,” he said.
Nicolas Houzé, chief executive officer of Galeries Lafayette Group, echoed the sentiment.
“Although this news comes as a relief for our group and for the whole French retail sector after such a long wait, my thoughts go out to the teams at our stores, and I thank them for their resilience these last few weeks,” he said in a post on LinkedIn.
“At last, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Yohann Petiot, head of the retail lobby group Alliance du Commerce, told daily newspaper Le Monde.
Both were signatories of an open letter posted in French daily Le Parisien last week by a group of 12 retail federations and 150 managers of retail chains.
“We are taking part in the collective effort to fight COVID-19, but this situation of closures cannot last,” they wrote. “It puts our companies in serious danger, and is worrying our 800,000 employees who fear for their jobs.”
The retailers said their companies lost more than 20 percent of sales last year, on average, and have seen a drop in business of more than 30 percent since the beginning of this year.
Even before the pandemic grounded international travel, depriving France of tourists — a key revenue source for the country — the retail sector suffered a series of disruptions in recent years, including violent anti-government protests and transportation strikes.
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