French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Friday that the end of the national lockdown on May 11 would only be a first step as France looks to pull out of the crisis created by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Traditional Labour Day protests that usually see thousands of demonstrators on streets were cancelled this year due to the virus outbreak that has killed 24,000 people across France.
“May 11 will not be the passage to normal life. There will be a recovery that will need to be reorganised,” Macron said in a speech at the presidential palace after a meeting with horticulturists.
“There will be several phases and May 11 will be one of them.”
Unions organised online activities for labour day, asked people to bang pans and put out banners on their balconies to mark the day. Police disbanded a small protest in central Paris.
It was in stark contrast to this time last year when tens of thousands of labour union and “yellow vest” protesters were on the streets across France demonstrating against Macron’s policies.
The protests were marred after dozens of masked and hooded anarchists clashed with riot police.
Macron, in a message on his Twitter account, lauded the traditional parades and French workers, urging unity and solidarity during these tough times.
But highlighting the rocky path ahead, union officials and far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen were quick to underscore their concerns amid the crisis.
“Even if today we are confined, our demands are not,” Yves Veyrier, head of the Force Ouvriere union, told France Inter radio.
Le Pen pressed ahead with her party’s annual May 1 tradition of honouring mediaeval heroine Joan of Arc by laying a wreath at the golden statue of the 15th century warrior in central Paris, despite the lockdown.
“I’ve never said I had doubts about the confinement. I just said that complete confinement was the solution when we failed to prevent the epidemic,” Le Pen, wearing a mask, told reporters.
“A successful end to the lockdown is with tests for everybody, masks for everybody and I am opposed to schools opening before September.”
From May 11, schools will gradually reopen and businesses will be free to resume operations after the country’s 67 million population has been in confinement since mid-March.
The government has said it is prepared to slow or delay the unwinding of the lockdown if the virus infection rate spikes markedly higher, with administrative departments divided into ‘red’ and ‘green’ zones.
Opposition lawmakers and some experts have questioned the practicalities of schools reopening, the broad use of public transport and the tough measures that will continue to impact areas less affected by the virus.
Question marks have also been raised about the government’s ability to reach its target of 700,000 COVID-19 tests by May 11, their implementation and the possible isolation of people who tested positive for the illness.