France's President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday a further easing of restrictions imposed after the COVID-19 outbreak, beginning with the full reopening of cafes and restaurants and the lifting of bans on travel from European countries.
France, which has been among the countries in Europe hardest-hit by COVID-19, with nearly 30,000 deaths, has nonetheless seen its daily count of new cases fall dramatically since a peak in mid-April.
"The fight against the epidemic is not finished but I am happy about this first victory against the virus," Macron said in a televised address.
He said that mainland France, including Paris, would be classified as a "green zone" for the deadly virus. Only the overseas French territories of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean and French Guiana will remain on a higher "orange" alert level, he said.
Travel from other European countries will now be allowed with travel from outside Europe to resume on July 1, he said, outlining the government's plan.
The further easing is part of a gradual relaxation of restrictions in France that began with the May 11 end of a two-month stay-at-home order. Among other things, Macron's announcement means that cafes and restaurants can be fully reopened; they had been allowed to resume business for outdoor seating only earlier this month. Earlier, officials had indicated that might have to wait another week.
Sunday's announcement also allows people to resume visiting family members in retirement homes.
From June 22, all nursery schools, primary schools and junior high schools will be open and attendance will be mandatory.
France expects the economy to contract by 11% this year. Macron said his government was pumping an "unprecedented" 500 billion euros ($563 billion) into the economy in the form of financial aid and relief payments to forestall layoffs and support key business sectors.
"With this epidemic, the global economy has come to a virtual standstill," he said. "Our first priority will be to rebuild an economy that is strong, ecological, sovereign and united."
According to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, the United Kingdom is the worst-hit country in Europe with nearly 300,000 infections and just under 42,000 deaths. Spain has had some 240,000 cases and more than 41,000 deaths. Italy, which saw a huge number of coronavirus-related deaths beginning in March, has seen nearly 237,000 cases and more than 34,000 COVID-19 deaths. All four countries, including France, have seen significant declines in infections in recent weeks.