The National Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, delivered other bad news on COVID to 4 cities which must now close all bars in the face of the increase in the number of cases. Vérain said Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Étienne are now on “maximum alert”, an appellation that requires bars to close but allows restaurants to remain open for now.
Toulouse and Montpellier were also to be classified in the category, but Véran granted them a reprieve until Monday. However, most experts do not expect the trajectory of cases to change enough to allow them to escape the same fate.
In a nationwide televised press conference, Véran noted that France had recorded 18,129 cases of COVID on Thursday, one of its highest figures to date. While cases have far exceeded figures from last spring, deaths and hospitalizations have increased only marginally, giving hope that the second wave may not be so deadly.
However, this second wave will come at an economical price. These four cities now join the Paris region and the Aix-Marseille region on maximum alert. These closures have caused growing frustration and backlash among bar and restaurant owners. Even though these may remain open, they still face increased sanitary restrictions and curfews.
Unlike the spring when the nation faced a strict lockdown, the French government opted this summer for a decentralized response to this second wave, leaving local authorities to impose new measures such as curfews in bars or compulsory masks. if necessary. But in the face of greater criticism as the number of cases increased, Macron’s government regained control late last month and created a 5-tier system that places restrictions as regions move up the ranks.
After Marseille and Paris were placed in the high alert category, local businesses rebelled by marching the streets and filing lawsuits to try to block the new restrictions. Macron’s government then offered financial aid to bars and rescinded an earlier requirement that restaurants also close.
“Life must continue to unfold,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said at a press conference this week. “The health crisis has serious, dramatic consequences for economic activity. We are a city very dependent on tourism. We have to live with the virus and protect ourselves. “
What has become clear in recent weeks is that French residents are increasingly tired and frustrated. Part of the reason is the continued need to make sacrifices, like wearing masks and going out less to eat and drink. But there are also grunts in some neighborhoods from those who feel the government’s plan for the second wave seems inconsistent.
Even after making some compromises on closures, for example, Macron’s government continues to be criticized for not forcing people to work from home, a measure that is officially “encouraged.” On Twitter, as the government announced the closure of Parisian restaurants, frustrated residents posted photos of people crammed into the metro on their way to work.
In Toulouse, this weariness and confusion are felt by customers as well as bar owners.
On a cold and rainy evening, a dozen customers braving the weather sat around tables on the terrace of the Wolf Trap in Toulouse. Watching customers cuddle up around pints of beer and smoke, owner Pierre Pertenais wondered how long it would take for this scene to end.
It has already felt the pinch in recent weeks as the government reduced its closing time from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m. and then to 10 p.m. just over a week ago. Its five employees were reduced to part-time work and its income fell by around 40% due to both the decrease in customer numbers and the closure during the hours when customers would normally start ordering more drinks. hard – and more expensive -.
“First it seems the government is not doing enough, then it is doing too much,” he said. “It’s irritating because the bars were not the source of clusters. What about universities, offices, subways? They seem to have more problems.
Nicolas, 21, a student at a business school in Toulouse, sat with friends around a table at Chez Mamie bar in Place de la Trinité in Toulouse, drinking beers and laughing. They were just a handful of the more than 100 people who had filled the terraces of the bars that line one side of the square. The staff at Chez Mamie had carefully placed duct tape around their section of the plaza to make it clear where people could sit and remove their masks.
While Nicolas said he understood the need to protect people, he was also frustrated by the inconsistency in government policy. He had been to Paris the week before and had said he thought crowded subways seemed to be a bigger threat than people sitting in a bar.
“It’s hard for people to stay at home,” he says. “There is a lack of cohesion in these policies. It looks more like a political crisis now than a health crisis. ”
Benjamin Böhle-Roitelet is co-owner of Nebuchadnezzar, a wine bar that has already closed its doors for now. Last year, he and his partner Boris Delmas bought the bar frequented by singer Claude Nougaro. They had hoped to fix it and reopen in the spring. The lockdown put that plan on hold until the summer.
The bar is small, so the partners sailed into the city’s red tap and managed to get permission to open a terrace along the narrow street outside. Things had finally fallen into a thicket in late summer when curfews gradually began to set in. With the 10 p.m. closure, Böhle-Roitelet said it made no sense to keep the bar open as crowds tended to start to peak around 9 p.m.
At this point, it’s hard to say when it will be able to reopen. But he regrets that bars have become one of the biggest targets of these new restrictions. “The only solution to COVID is social distancing,” he said. “But in a crisis, people need more solidarity. Politics should be discussed around a bar counter so that we can find better and more humane solutions. “