Paris, France: The French returned to cafés on Wednesday, eagerly anticipating long-awaited excursions to films and museums, as the country eased restrictions in a return to semi-normalcy following more than six months of Covid-19 restrictions.
Under the second phase of a lockdown-lifting plan, cafes and restaurants with terraces or rooftop gardens can now provide outside eating, with the economy expected to reopen fully on June 30.
Museums, cinemas, and theatres are also reopening after being closed for more than six months and relying primarily on government assistance to stay afloat.
Cafes and restaurants all around Paris have been sprucing up outdoor dining spaces in preparation for the return in recent days, and the first customers were already enjoying their morning expressos.
Since October 30, 2020, when France started its second lockdown to combat the coronavirus, the establishments have been closed.
“I already had three customers come to drink their coffees. It feels good,” said Pascal who manages the Saint-Jean brasserie in the Montmartre district. “What a change from getting take-away coffee at the bakery!” enthused one of the customers, Cyril.
In the western city of Rennes, Patricia Marchand, the manager of the Cafe des Feuilles, said she had reservations even for aperitifs. “It feels good. There is a sense of euphoria in the city center.”
‘The French way,’ as they say.
President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Jean Castex shared a highly-publicized first coffee at a cafe near the Elysee Palace, with the head of state applauding “a tiny bit of freedom regained” in front of the cameras.
“The art of living the French way,” happily tweeted Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, posting a picture of himself reading L’Equipe sports daily at a corner cafe.
However, with rain forecast over much of France and most venues only permitted to utilize half of their outside seating, several of the 40% of French restaurants with terraces are expected to postpone restarting operations.
Starting Wednesday, the nighttime curfew will be pushed back two hours to 9:00 p.m., putting a damper on the festivities, with eating limited to six persons per table.
Stephanie Mathey, the owner of three Paris bistros, told AFP that the reopening was being treated as a dress rehearsal for the summer.
“Like a diesel engine, we’ll be warming up slowly,” she told AFP.
Restaurants will be allowed to serve indoors on June 9, followed by a further lessening of restrictions on June 30, when the curfew will be lifted completely.
In the right direction
Many people are looking forward to viewing a film in a theatre or attending a play or an exhibition, in addition to having a coffee or glass of wine on a patio.
“We are glad to be able to welcome you again,” the Louvre museum, the world’s most visited, wrote on its website, as visitors with pre-booked tickets queued outside its famous pyramid.
Non-essential companies such as toys and clothing stores that have been closed since a third lockdown was declared in early April can now reopen under social distancing guidelines, which is a boon to the economy.
On Monday, there were 4,250 coronavirus patients in intensive care, down from about 6,000 a month ago.
In addition, the number of illnesses per 100,000 persons per week has decreased to 142 from 400 in early April.
Meanwhile, the government’s immunization campaign has ramped up, with more than 20 million individuals receiving at least one shot.
Concert halls, stadiums, and other cultural facilities are permitted to fill 35 percent of their seats, with a maximum capacity of 800 inside and 1,000 outside.
Cinemas, which have been closed for the past six months, have a large backlog of films to show, and some moviegoers were already up and about to grab their dose.
“I didn’t want to be late for the return,” Cyril, 24, said as he entered a morning screening of the French comedy “Mandibules,” one of three films he wanted to see in one day.
Despite the closures, France has had less severe lockdowns than its neighbors in the last half-year, including the avoidance of massive school closures, in what was considered as a huge gamble by Macron ahead of the 2022 elections.
“If we manage to organize ourselves, vaccinate and maintain collective discipline, there is no reason that we cannot continue to progress,” Macron said at the cafe, adding that Covid-19 figures in France were “heading in the right direction”.
With AFP inputs.