PARIS, June 9 (Xinhua) -- "Here we are!" tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday morning, marking the debut of a new phase in the country's easing of its coronavirus lockdown.
"Sit at a restaurant table. Escape from it during a show. Vibrate in unison in the stadium. Go back to the halls. The life we missed so much!" he wrote.
After seven months of closure, restaurants, bars and cafes throughout France are now able to host customers indoors, albeit still at half of their seating capacity and with tables limited to a maximum of six people.
Open again since May 19, outdoor seating areas of catering businesses are now back to full capacity.
The new step towards a return to normalcy seems to have put extra winds in the sails of Roy Rajas, 38, owner of a fast-food restaurant in the commune of Persan north of Paris. Without a terrace, his kitchen has been operating at reduced capacity.
"I've been offering home deliveries and takeaway service only. Surely that helped us limit our losses, but the sight of empty tables and upturned chairs breaks the morale of any restaurant owner," he told Xinhua.
"It's nice to see customers dine again inside. I hope this situation will now last," he added.
During the new phase of lockdown easing, "life is resuming all over France," commented Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of economy and finance.
Cultural venues can now increase their seating capacity to 65 percent compared to 35 percent allowed on May 19. Indoor gyms and covered swimming pools can reopen to the public at half capacity.
Working at home is no longer the rule and the restrictions on tourists' arrival are eased. The start of the night-time curfew is pushed back by two hours to 11 p.m. Eventually, all the COVID-19 restrictions are set to be removed later this month.
Yassine Kassi, an employee at a marketing and ads firm in Paris, found his way back to the office on Wednesday after having worked remotely for seven months.
"I'm so happy to find again our habits, our normal daily life: going to work, eating outside, sipping a drink with colleagues. All that was a routine before the epidemic. Now it's vital to feel that we are living despite the virus," he said.
Since early May, France has been progressively easing restrictions on public life as the health indicators at the national level are "green," but people are advised to remain cautious not to unleash a new wave of infections.
"Overall, the epidemic situation continues to improve significantly throughout the country," Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Sunday.
"The gradual easing of lockdown has not broken this virtuous dynamic of reducing the epidemic," he said.
The minister noted that the intensity of virus circulation has been decreasing by 20 percent to 25 percent each week and the incidence rate has remained below 100 positive cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
However, he called on people to remain vigilant due to the risk of the spread of the Delta COVID-19 variant first detected in India.
If no new wave appears in the autumn, "we will be able to say that COVID-19 is over," Veran told BFMTV news television.
After the holidays last summer, when the rules on social mixing were removed, France witnessed a marked increase in the number of new infections in September, forcing the government to lock down the population for a second time to contain the virus.
The appearance of more contagious variants triggered a third COVID-19 wave in early April this year -- and a fourth wave is likely to follow this autumn, according to the government's top health advisor.
"After a summer that should overall go well ... we should see a resurgence of the epidemic in September or October," Jean-Francois Delfraissy, head of the scientific council that advises the government on COVID-19, said on Tuesday.
Delfraissy told RTL radio that the Delta virus strain, which drove a devastating epidemic wave in India, would be dominant in the country by this autumn.
"The fourth wave will be very different from the previous waves because we will have the public vaccinated. The virus will find a population largely inoculated and protected against these new variants," he said.
In a report published on May 22, scientists from France's Institut Pasteur noted that "to avoid a risk of an epidemic rebound this summer, it is preferable that the current decrease in infections and hospitalizations be maintained for a few more weeks and that the current vaccination rate be maintained or increased."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, France has had over 5.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases. On Wednesday, 5,557 new cases were recorded against a daily average of about 40,000 at the peak of the third wave two months ago.
Coronavirus-linked hospitalizations have continued to fall since early May. Some 13,526 COVID-19 patients are still hospitalized, 2,326 of them in intensive care, against this year's record high of 6,001 registered on April 26, the health authorities said.
The government, which bets on vaccination to stave off the effects of a new wave of the pandemic, has so far administered about 29 million first vaccine doses to 55.3 percent of France's population aged 18 and over.
Some 13 million citizens, or 24.9 percent of the adult population, have already received both jabs, the Health Ministry said. Enditem