France plans to lift travel restrictions and ease a nationwide curfew on May 2 on expectations that daily Covid-19 cases will soon start to fall, a source close to the presidency told AFP.
President Emmanuel Macron also intends to stick to a goal of allowing restaurants to serve patrons outdoors from mid-May, while also reopening cinemas, theatres and museums with reduced capacity, the source said.
Non-food businesses will also open their doors mid-May, after Macron announced their closure from April 3 to contain a third wave of coronavirus infections that have again pushed hospitals to the brink.
Macron also ordered school closures for April to slow the outbreak, but kindergarten and primary school students are set to return on Monday, and older students on May 3.
The staggered plan to exit a four-week clampdown, sketched out by Macron in his televised address last month, "remains the working basis," government spokesman Gabriel Attal said after Macron chaired a cabinet meeting on the pandemic response.
People currently must remain within 10 kilometres (six miles) from their homes and a 7:00 pm curfew is in effect, but Attal confirmed that self-signed certificates justifying movements would no longer be necessary from May 2.
- At the peak? -
Restaurants, cafes and bars have been shut since October 30, causing anguish for owners despite massive financial support from the government to offset the lost revenue and limit layoffs.
The prospect of relief from the quasi-lockdown reflects the government's conviction that the number of daily Covid cases will fall to around 20,000 within a month, the source said.
Macron is also betting that France will meet its target of vaccinating 20 million people with at least one dose by mid-May, up from 13 million currently.
On Tuesday, health authorities reported 43,098 cases over the previous 24 hours, and 375 deaths, bringing the country's total to 101,597.
"It appears that we could be at the peak, or close to it," Attal said, while cautioning that progress in reducing pressure on hospitals "remains insufficient."
Macron drew fire from political opponents as well as health experts early this year when he decided against a new lockdown, bucking a European trend.
He defended the move by saying France and its economy had gained "precious weeks of liberty," but surging cases forced his hand in April, though he stopped short of ordering people to stay home or avoid socialising completely.