Covid-19: French shop reopenings in December not yet certain

·2-min read

Some French stores may be able to reopen in December for the holiday season, but the prospect is far from certain despite signs that the partial coronavirus lockdown is working, industry minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said Monday.

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"Letting some businesses reopen on December 1 would be ideal," she told France Info radio.

"But we're not there yet, and we'll do everything necessary to slow the virus spread," she said.

A range of businesses deemed non-essential, from booksellers and toy stores to clothing retailers, have been clamouring for permission to once again welcome clients, saying enough precautions were in place to limit contagion risks.

Many are also calling to reopen as soon as November 27, to capitalise on the "Black Friday" sales frenzy they say will otherwise profit only huge online competitors like Amazon.

An open letter signed by some 120 lawmakers, union leaders, NGOs and business owners on Monday called for a special tax on Amazon and other "profiteers from the crisis".

Asked about Black Friday openings, Pannier-Runacher said "we're still holding talks on this, so I'm not going to make any indications or false promises".

Her comments came as France reported Sunday another decline in new Covid-19 cases and the lowest number of new admissions in intensive care units -- 270 -- in three weeks.

"Thanks to the lockdown, as was the case last March, the virus transmissions are slowing," health minister Olivier Veran said in an interview with regional French newspapers published Monday.

"We're getting this epidemic back under control, it's good news," he said. "But we have not yet beaten this virus... it's clearly too soon to claim victory and relax our efforts."

Currently there are 4,880 coronavirus patients in intensive care (IC), putting huge strains on French hospitals which had a total of 5,000 intensive care beds nationwide before the crisis.

The government has scrambled to make hundreds more beds available, and says it now has capacity for 7,700 IC patients, a figure it could raise to more than 10,000 if necessary.

France has reported 44,548 coronavirus deaths since the outbreak began at the start of the year.