French government says second coronavirus wave threatens but life must go on

PARIS (Reuters) - France will not let its guard down against a still-virulent coronavirus but life must return to some kind of normality, the prime minister said on Wednesday, as a senior adviser to the government warned of a second wave in November.

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Prime Minister Jean Castex said his government wanted to ensure the French could return to school, get back to work and enjoy a social life “as normally as possible”.

Face masks would remain central to the government’s strategy after a surge in the rate of coronavirus infections in recent weeks, he said.

“The worst thing of all would be that we sink because we did not get things moving amid a social and economic crisis,” Castex told France Inter radio.

France has the seventh-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, with 30,544 fatalities.

It reported 3,304 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, below last week’s daily highs but much higher than after President Emmanuel Macron initially eased a nationwide lockdown.

Pupils aged 11 and over must wear masks when they return to school on Sept. 1 and masks will be provided for free to those with health risks or from impoverished families.

France has also made it mandatory to wear a mask in work places from next week to counter the spike in infections just as employees return from their summer holidays.

Countries across Europe are grappling with how reboot their economies and get the daily lives of citizens as close to normal as possible without accelerating the spread of the virus.

Britain on Wednesday said pupils will have to wear masks in communal areas of secondary schools in COVID hotspots, in a new government u-turn. Germany said it wanted to scrap mandatory free tests for returning travellers because of bottlenecks in laboratories.

Underlining the delicate balancing act, the head of the scientific council advising France’s government said a second wave of the coronavirus could hit in November.

“We may have to toughen measures again,” said Castex, who said local lockdowns would be imposed if needed.

The government’s delayed 100 billion euro ($118.07 billion)recovery plan will be unveiled on Sept. 3, Castex said.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Matthieu Protard; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Hugh Lawson and Chizu Nomiyama