France eyes possible easing of COVID restrictions from mid-April

·2-min read
People wearing protective face masks in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - France is preparing for a possible easing of coronavirus restrictions from mid-April as it banks on an acceleration of its vaccination campaign against the pandemic, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.

"We will still face hard times, it is true, but for the first time in months, the return to more normal living conditions is in sight," Attal told reporters following a meeting of the French cabinet.

"It is neither a distant nor uncertain horizon - it is an horizon that is getting closer and closer. We hope maybe from mid-April, and we are preparing for it," he said.

"The president (Emmanuel Macron) asked us to submit proposals that could allow for a cautious re-opening of the country soon."

Earlier this week, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France will retain its current measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, including a nighttime curfew, as a bare minimum for the next four to six weeks.

Other measures now in force include the closure of bars, restaurants, museums, sports and music venues.

Prime Minister Jean Castex will hold a news conference on Thursday to provide an update on the country's health situation.

He said last week a new lockdown was not on the agenda but that the government would see this week whether local weekend lockdowns might be needed in 20 areas with high infection rates, including Paris and the surrounding region.

France reported 22,857 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, sharply up from 4,703 on Monday and up from 19,952 on Sunday, confirming the fresh upward trend of the disease.

Attal said the situation was "worrying" but the increase was "not exponential".

With 3.783 million cases reported since the outbreak of the pandemic a year ago, France has the sixth highest tally in the world. Its 87,220 death toll is the seventh highest globally.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Mark Heinrich)