French PM says it's time to emerge from virus lockdown

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe delivers a speech to present the government’s plan to unwind the country’s coronavirus lockdown at the National Assembly in Paris, France April 28, 2020. David Niviere/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) – French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said a lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus has saved tens of thousands of lives but that it was time to ease the restrictions to stave off economic collapse.

The death toll in France passed 23,000 on Monday, the world’s fourth highest 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, though Philippe said the French people would have to adapt to a new way of living.

“We are going to have to learn to live with the virus,” Philippe told parliament on Tuesday as he began outlining measures to gradually ease the lockdown. “We must learn to live with COVID-19 and to protect ourselves from it.”

Philippe’s government faces a delicate balancing act, keen to relieve the mounting frustration of people holed up in their homes since mid-March without heightening the risk of a second wave of infections if France moves too swiftly.

France would begin emerging from the lockdown on May 11, unless it was unsafe to do so, Philippe said.

“If the indicators are not right, we will not unwind the lockdown on May 11, or we will do it more strictly,” he said.

By then, France would have the capacity to conduct 700,000 tests per week, the prime minister continued. The state would cover the full cost of testing.

Philippe’s address will be followed by a debate and vote in the evening, with just 75 of the National Assembly’s 577 lawmakers sitting in the chamber to respect social distancing rules.

Reporting by Richard Lough, Matthieu Protard and Leigh Thomas, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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