PARIS — Ignoring calls by retailers to allow them to reopen by May 10, President Emmanuel Macron has laid out a calendar for a gradual unwinding of the third lockdown in France, beginning May 19, when shops, cinemas, theaters and museums will be allowed to reopen, alongside the terraces of cafés, bars and restaurants.
At that date, the nationwide curfew will be pushed back to 9 p.m. from 7, but it won’t be totally lifted until June 30. Macron made the announcement in an interview published on Friday in several regional newspapers.
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Likewise, any reopening is conditional on local coronavirus incidence rates dropping below 400 per 100,000 residents. The incidence rate measures the ratio of people — calculated over a week — who have tested positive for the first time in more than 60 days, compared with the overall population.
At current rates, the Paris region would not be allowed to reopen, meaning the data will be closely scrutinized in coming weeks.
The government’s decision scuppers the sector’s hopes of reopening in time for the long weekend of Ascension, between May 13 and 16. More than 150,000 stores have been closed since April 3.
“Although we are satisfied to have a date for all brands and their employees to work toward, we regret not having been heard regarding an opening before Ascension weekend,” said Emmanuel Le Roch, general manager of Procos, the federation representing specialized trade. “It is essential that all stores in all departments of France reopen on May 19.”
In a joint statement, representatives of 12 retail federations echoed his comments, and called for extra economic support for ailing retailers.
“Stores must reopen on May 19, including in those departments where the incidence rate is higher, since it has been demonstrated that the virus is not transmitted in stores, and the government has confirmed the lifting of restrictions on travel in all regions,” said the statement.
“These two additional weeks of closure will have heavy economic consequences for companies by weighing on the month of May, which is important both in terms of turnover and margins. It accounts for up to 20 percent of business in some retail sectors,” it added.
Nicolas Houzé, chief executive officer of Galeries Lafayette Group, sounded a cautiously optimistic note.
“Although this news comes as a relief for our group and for the whole French retail sector after such a long wait, my thoughts go out to the teams at our stores, and I thank them for their resilience these last few weeks,” he said in a post on LinkedIn.
Houzé was among the signatories of an open letter posted in French daily Le Parisien last week by a group of 12 retail federations and 150 managers of retail chains.
“We are taking part in the collective effort to fight COVID-19, but this situation of closures cannot last,” they wrote. “It puts our companies in serious danger, and is worrying our 800,000 employees who fear for their jobs.”
The retailers said their companies lost more than 20 percent of sales last year, on average, and have seen a drop in business of more than 30 percent since the beginning of this year.
Even before the pandemic grounded international travel, depriving France of tourists — a key revenue source for the country — the retail sector suffered a series of disruptions in recent years, including violent anti-government protests and transportation strikes.