Exiting lockdown: Macron rules out any change despite the health situation

Published by Alexandre G. · Published on 21 April 2021 at 11h02
While the epidemic situation in France is still hanging on a thread given the presence of variants, the government announces the band of trips beyond 10km is to be lifted as well as curfew to be eased from May 2. Schools reopen on April 26 for nursery and primary schools. Cultural places and terraces are to progressively reopen "by setp" depending on the spread of the virus in each territory, the vaccination campaign is to escalate, “long-term” health guidelines: at the top of the State, all credible options are taken into account to meet the Head of State’s ambitious goal. But including – as often – zero health certitude.

Will tightrope walker Emmanuel Macron manage to hang on the lockdown exit calendar? French people have saved it in their calendar or mind: France is to progressively reopen and lockdown is to be liftedfrom mid-May”. So has promised the head of state this past March 31 in his televised address. Two weeks later, the few clues given by the executive about modalities and the lockdown exit calendar make their heads spin.

Especially when confusion comes from the top. As part of a meeting held this Thursday April 15 with about fifteen average-city mayors, President Macron addressed the first lines of the next steps: lockdown exit will be completed in several steps, in accordance with a calendar made in partnership with local elected representatives. First, the reopening of some cultural places such as museums, along with the reopening of terraces for cafés and restaurants, then will come the rest – progressively. “Some cultural places and some terraces will reopen from mid-May” government spokesman Gabriel Attal says, after the meeting. Some reopening, but nothing certain.

In the morning of the third week following the governmental announcements, the executive moves their pawns a little bit more. As the Health Minister considers the health situation remains "fragile" in France - including a declining incidence rate quickly caught up by the permanent saturation of ICUs - the "presential reopening of schools" from April 26, and of "junior high and high schools" from May 3 might occur just as planned - he told Télégramme this Tuesday April 20, 2021. "We'll reopen, I undertake it", President Macron even said the day before to student parents in Montpellier.

But, how will the lockdown exit revolve? To prevent any slackening from the population, while keeping up with the presidential promise calendar, the idea is to celebrate small victories. “We need quick wins, small victories to cheer everyone up. Terraces are a small victory to light up our daily lives” State Secretary for Social Economy Olivia Grégoire told Le Monde.

On that matter, the Elysée intends to keep a clear path. According to a councelor interviewed by Le Monde, the lockdown exit calendar is to be "invariably" met. The only change reported this Wednesday April 21 in the evening by the same person and confirmed then by AFP: starting May 2, the executive wishes to lift the ban of trips beyond 10km, and ease curfew.

Furthermore, cautiousness is also required, according to the spokesman. “Then, the escalation in the number of people vaccinated will enable more progressive reopening. We’ll use rational criteria of common sense, making a difference between outdoor and indoor places, those where one circulates or not, those where it is necessary to remove one’s mask”, he explains in an interview with Les Echos. On that matter, the “Head of State’s credibility is at stake” someone close to the President says. With this in mind, Minister of Labor Elisabeth Borne stays pragmatic. “We’ll have to think about more lasting health guidelines at the same time as vaccination”, she thinks.

According to news reported by Le Monde, it seems the option to lift lockdown on a territory-basis – depending on each health situation – remains favored by the executive – like what they have been recommended since they implemented the first restrictions. Yet, giving a precise date as been ruled out: as per usual, President Macron tries to give a deadline “around mid-May”. Giving a precise deadline would be like performing an act worthy of the greatest circuses. And a political bet far too bold for the current times.

Backstage, each grandiloquent presidential appearance gives nightmare to the little ants entrusted with the logistics. The least issue that could break the already fragile cycle decided by the executive jeopardizes the lockdown exit as a whole and the presidential majority’s political credibility. “One can move from the shadow to the limelight overnight”, LREM group fallen president Gilles Le Gendre told the National Assembly. The die is cast…

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