Runners and swimmers rediscovered sea air on Wednesday as France opened a selection of Atlantic coast beaches closed when the coronavirus closed, while the Lourdes sanctuary was preparing to welcome Catholic pilgrims again this week weekend.
But the cautious relaxation of restrictions stipulated that while beach goers could swim or go fishing, no sunbathing was allowed.
The Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes, meanwhile, will only allow a limited number of visitors and will keep certain prohibited areas.
Local authorities have reopened a number of beaches in western France, banning any “static presence – sitting or lying”, including picnics.
Walkers, swimmers, individual water sports enthusiasts and fishermen are welcome, provided they respect the rule of social distance of one meter (3.3 feet) between individuals, explained a tweet from the Loire-Atlantique department.
However, other beaches remain prohibited, including Deauville in Normandy, a favorite of Parisians, for whom it is 2.5 hours away by train.
“If we say that we are going to open the beaches, everyone will go down there and it will be a terrible crowd,” the mayor of Deauville, Philippe Augier, told France 3 television.
The beaches of the Mediterranean coast and the North Sea could reopen from this weekend for walks and sports activities, according to local officials.
France began breaking out of a two-month deadlock on Monday, which the government claims to save tens of thousands of lives by limiting the spread of the coronavirus, but which has taken a heavy economic toll.
– Closed cellar –
The country remains on alert, with increased precautions in so-called “red” areas – including Paris and the Ile-de-France region – where the virus remains active.
Cafes, restaurants, bars, many schools, parks and gardens remain closed in these areas, in addition to a national ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
In low-risk areas, local authorities can request permission to reopen beaches and lakes.
In southwest France, the Lourdes sanctuary, which receives millions of visitors each year, has announced that it will reopen from Saturday.
Authorities say that at the moment they will only allow individual pilgrims from neighboring regions.
French people are not allowed to travel more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from home without a certificate to justify longer trips.
The cave where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a French peasant woman in 1858 will remain closed to visitors, the religious establishment said. The wearing of the mask will be compulsory on the rest of the site.
The sanctuary is expected to lose around eight million euros ($ 8.7 million) due to the prolonged absence of pilgrims and their offerings.
Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo, meanwhile, continued her campaign on Wednesday to reopen public parks and gardens in the capital, a measure the national government rejects.
“The opening of parks and gardens in Paris is above all a question of public health: it is a very dense city, it is necessary to gain space”, tweeted the mayor, who also wishes to make the wearing of the mask compulsory public.
But the government believes that the reopening of parks and gardens would be “inappropriate given the rapid circulation of the virus” in Ile-de-France, said spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye.
The coronavirus has claimed more than 26,000 lives in France to date, with 348 deaths reported Tuesday in the daily briefing.
strawberries-mlr / dd
Officials have opened some beaches on the west coast of France, but not for static activities such as picnics or sunbathing
People were reminded to respect the social distancing rules already in effect on the beach
The Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes is preparing a partial reopening for the weekend