The overall coronavirus situation in France, both in terms of new cases and hospital admissions, has improved as the government was unwinding restrictions and planning avaccination campaign, according to authorities.
On Thursday, the country reported 13,563 new cases, which increased the overall infection tally to to 2,183,660, reports Xinhua news agency.
The daily tally was down by 2,719 from a day before.
Another 339 people died from the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 50,957.
As of Thursday, some 29,310 people were hospitalized, 662 fewer than the previous day, while some 4,018 required life support, down by 130.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Jean Castex told reporters that pressure from the pandemic was further weakening in France than in other European nations.
The virus reproduction rate, the “R” rate, is now at 0.65 countrywide, the same level France had reached when it emerged from a three-month confinement in mid-May, he added.
Starting from Saturday, non-essential shops in France will reopen under strict health protocol.
Stores must respect the rule of one client for every 8 square metres of floor space, put in place one-way circulation and ventilate their premises.
Indoor religious services with 30 worshippers would be allowed.
People would be allowed to go outdoors for three hours instead of one hour now and within a 20-km radius of their homes. However, people should continue to sign a document to go out.
If the situation improves further and the number of new cases remain below 5,000 per day, the lockdown could be lifted by December 15, but a night-time ban on movement would remain in place from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., except on December 24 (Christmas Eve) and December 31 (New Year’s Eve).
Restaurants, bars, cafes and gyms will stay shut until January 20, 2021, in an effort to avoid a third wave.
“The situation is improving but remains fragile… We cannot lower our guard. Our objective is to allow a gradual return to a more normal life, to allow you to spend the holiday season with your loved ones while minimizing the risk of a resurgence of the virus,” Castex said.
Meanwhile, the country’s the vaccination campaign would start at the end of December or early January, provided its efficacy and safety are approved by regulators, said Health Minister Olivier Veran.
The government will detail its vaccination program next week, he added.
According to Arnaud Fontanet, a government scientific adviser, up to 90 per cent of the 67 million population should be vaccinated to enable the return to normal life by next autumn.
“This is an extremely ambitious objective given the scepticism towards vaccines,” Fontanet told BFMTV news channel.
An Elabe survey released on Thursday found that 48 per cent of 1,003 respondents refused to get a Covid-19 vaccine if it became available, up by two points from the poll last week.
According to the pollster, six out of 10 French citizens opposed to making vaccination mandatory.