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Ski stations will remain closed as France relaxes some lockdown rules

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By Lauren Chadwick
An elderly man wears a face mask as he walks on the Champs Elysee avenue, in Paris, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.
An elderly man wears a face mask as he walks on the Champs Elysee avenue, in Paris, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Thibault Camus
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France is set to relax its lockdown rules from Saturday with businesses permitted to reopen after being closed for four weeks.

Rules will then further relax on December 15, with a curfew in place but travel between regions allowed. Ski stations and restaurants will remain closed for Christmas, however.

Businesses opening from Saturday will need to put in place stricter rules to accept clients, including an interior capacity that allows for eight square metres per client, French officials said at a press conference on Thursday.

Commerces are also encouraged to ventilate the areas naturally by opening windows and doors or using a mechanical system.

Residents in France meanwhile will need to continue to have a justification form through to December 15, though they will be allowed to spend up to three hours outside and travel 20 kilometres from their homes starting this weekend. Religious services will have a capacity of 30 people.

It's part of a relaxation of coronavirus measures in three steps, that is being rolled out with a markedly different communication strategy than in the spring.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was joined by several French government officials to detail the months to come, said it was not a question of coming out of lockdown, but rather of relaxing some restrictions.

Castex called it an "adapted lockdown" and emphasised that it was "premature" to speak of ending lockdown, a large difference from the government's handling of the exit from the first lockdown.

Health minister Olivier Véran said the country had divided infections by three, going from an average of over 40,000 cases a day to roughly 17,000.

French officials also said that the epidemic's peak had been attained in the second week of November and that hospitalisations were now going down. Compared to other European countries, they said the measures put in place had worked quickly to bring down the infection rate.

But, they said, the pressure of the epidemic in hospitals was still high in the country. France has recorded 2.1 million cases and more than 50,600 deaths. Some 4,100 people are currently in intensive care units in the country, a number that officials say is slowly decreasing.

As President Emmanuel Macron had announced earlier in the week, there are three key dates in the relaxing of lockdown rules: November 28, December 15 and January 20.

Castex made certain details more clear, emphasising that ski stations will not be able to reopen by Christmas, but that the country is encouraging a European strategy for the reopening of stations.

Lockdown will be lifted but a curfew will be in place from December 15 and travelling will be allowed between French regions.

The country will give help and aid to people who could not work as much as in 2019, giving a stipend of 900 euros per month through February.

Cultural activities such as theatres and cinemas will also be permitted from December 15 and a ticket from one of these activities will be allowed as a justification from returning home after 9pm while the curfew is in place.

French officials emphasised that there would not yet be a return to any sort of "normal" and warned people to keep gatherings small over the holidays.