Outlook positive for French Open and Tour, but caution needed - minister


French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu talks during an interview with Reuters in her office at the Ministry headquarters in Paris, France, May 3, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

PARIS (Reuters) - The health situation in France has been improving slightly just ahead of two of the country's flagship sporting events, although late changes are still possible, sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said on Monday.

President Emmanuel Macron last week said fans would be allowed to gradually return to the arenas, with up to 5,000 spectators on the main showcourts by the end of the May 30-June 13 French Open, while most restrictions are expected to be lifted shortly after the start of the June 27-July 19 Tour de France.

"Today we are rather on a positive outlook with a vaccination campaign in full swing, with the possibility for many people to do a lot of PCR tests and the greater integration of social distancing," Maracineanu told Reuters.

More than 16 million people have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and all adults will be eligible for vaccination on June 15.

In France, testing for COVID-19 symptoms is free for all.

From May 19, up to 1,000 supporters will be allowed in sports stadiums, with the limit to be raised to 5,000 on June 9.

But Maracineanu said the government could backtrack on those restriction-easing measures if the health situation were to deteriorate.

"Something that may be decided today may change a week before the event, or two days before the event, depending on the evolution of the health crisis," she said.

"If we offer this visibility to the participants and organisers today, they know that this visibility can be modified according to the evolution of the transmission of the virus."

Maracineanu added that organisers and the sports ministry were still fine-tuning health protocols for the athletes involved.

"I hope that there are no last-minute changes (in the health situation) and that we can work on these protocols sufficiently in advance to know where we stand," she explained.

"We have been working on them for two months with French Open organisers, and we're starting now with the Tour organisers."

All French athletes and staff members taking part in the Tokyo Olympics will be fully vaccinated when the Games start on July 23.

"We've also integrated into the campaign the athletes who can qualify but have not yet wrapped up their qualification. We owe it to Japan to send a majority of athletes who are vaccinated," she said, adding that vaccination was optional.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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