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France set to continue coronavirus lockdown while easing some restrictions

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President Emmanuel Macron, right, speaks next to French Prime Minister Jean Castex, left, during a videoconference in Paris, November 17, 2020.
President Emmanuel Macron, right, speaks next to French Prime Minister Jean Castex, left, during a videoconference in Paris, November 17, 2020.   -   Copyright  Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP
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French President Emmanuel Macron could announce a slight easing of lockdown measures on Tuesday when he addresses the nation in a primetime speech to update on the country's COVID-19 situation.

The president is expected to announce an adaptation of restrictions which have been in place since the end of October.

Many expect that non-essential commerces may be able to reopen in the month of December. The government has pushed Black Friday back to December 4, the economy minister announced, in order to allow shops to "reopen in the near future", for instance.

"To be clear: the lockdown will continue and so there will continue to be limits on travel," said French government spokesman Gabriel Attal in an interview with the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

There will be three steps of relaxing restrictions, starting in the beginning of December, then before the Christmas holidays, and finally in January 2021, Attal specified.

The comments marked a change in discourse about the period of time after lockdown - with the government emphasising that instead of coming out of lockdown, restrictions will likely remain in place this time.

"[After the first lockdown] everyone was eager to get back to normal as soon as possible...Did we hope, including in the government, not to have to return to lockdown? Of course. Did we do enough to prevent any risk? Obviously not. But no country has found the solution to date," Attal told the Sunday paper.

Macron had hailed a "first victory" against the virus in a June 14 address to the nation after bringing cases down significantly following a brutal first wave of COVID-19.

"We will be able to rediscover the pleasure of being together, of fully returning to work but also of having fun, of cultivating ourselves. We will partly rediscover our art of living, our taste for freedom," the French president said in June.

He's unlikely to have the same message after the second wave of COVID-19, which he said in October was "circulating at a speed that even the most pessimistic forecasts had not anticipated."

It remains to be seen if the government will continue to encourage people to work from home and limit their movements to within one kilometre of their homes.

Macron will likely look towards the future as well. Since his last address, three vaccine candidates have delivered promising efficacy results, providing some hope that there could be a return to normal in 2021.

French officials say that the second lockdown has helped to reduce transmission, with new infections going down. Many hope that the epidemic peak has also passed, after nearly the entirety of the country saw rising cases.

Some 88% of the patients in intensive care units are COVID-19 patients, according to the government's TousAntiCovid application. That percentage is down from 95% on November 12.

The number of daily cases has fallen from roughly 30,000 new daily cases last week to 14,000 new cases from the government's latest update.

The country has so far recorded over 2.1 million COVID-19 cases and 48,732 deaths due to the virus.