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France plans for end of health emergency and hopes to avoid second lockdown

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People stroll on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
People stroll on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, Wednesday, June 3, 2020.   -   Copyright  Thibault Camus/AP Photo
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France is planning to exit its coronavirus health emergency state from July 10, with a law proposal that will include a transition period during which the country could reimpose movement restrictions.

The government's scientific council is advising a period of four months during which the prime minister could restrict movement to control the epidemic as a last resort.

But the council advised against reissuing a national lockdown citing "health, social and economic" concerns.

"The Scientific Council has indicated that the use of a strict nationwide lockdown would not be desirable or acceptable considering the health, social and economic issues. It is therefore essential to do everything to avoid such failure," advisers said in their advice to the government ahead of June 2.

"However, the Scientific Council considers that this possibility must be considered and must be able to be implemented, especially at the local level."

France issued a national lockdown in mid-March, with residents only allowed to leave their homes to buy necessary supplies such as food or medicine, health reasons, or to exercise for an hour a day.

The country began phasing out its lockdown on May 11 and in June reopened restaurants, cafes, sports centres and some museums and cultural sites.

At the beginning of June, the scientific council said "the circulation of virus in France has been greatly slowed down and the epidemic is under control" yet the virus "continues to circulate."

The council states that the country can exit the emergency status if the epidemic remains contained but that the current situation does not mean that there will not be a "resumption of the epidemic" which could happen over the next few weeks or months.

"The improvement of the situation" and the likely "localised, slow and controllable" resumption of the epidemic justifies exiting the emergency state, the scientific advisers said in their advice to the government.

France has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus epidemic with the third-highest death toll in Europe with more than 29,000 deaths and a heavy caseload with more than 155,000 confirmed cases.

But many are eager to further exit restrictions despite nearly 12,000 people still in hospital due to COVID-19 and 933 still in intensive care units.