PARIS – It’s a great day for the French. Sidewalk cafes and restaurants reopened on Wednesday after a six-month coronavirus shutdown deprived residents of the essence of French life – sipping coffee and wine with friends.
The French government is gradually lifting restrictions to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19 and give citizens back part of their “joie de vivre” signature. As part of the plan’s first step, the 7 p.m. nighttime curfew in France has been pushed back to 9 p.m. and museums, theaters and cinemas have reopened with outdoor café terraces.
President Emmanuel Macron, among the first to take a seat on a cafe terrace, was seen chatting with Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was attending a movie later in the day.
Actress Emmanuel Beart visited a central Paris cinema where her latest film “L’Etreinte” (“The embrace”) was screened – among dozens of films produced during the shutdown.
France is not the first European country to find some semblance of social and cultural life. Italy, Belgium, Hungary and other countries have already started allowing alfresco dining, while indoors eating and drinking began in UK pubs on Monday.
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Restaurants in France have been closed since the end of October, the longest period of any European country except Poland, where bars and restaurants reopened for outdoor service on Saturday after being closed for seven months.
Some French cafe and restaurant owners have spent days preparing for Wednesday’s milestone, even though rains are forecast for large parts of the country, including Paris.
Yet the government has placed limits on how much fun one can have. Restaurants can only occupy 50% of their outdoor seating area and do not seat more than six people at a table. Theaters can only accommodate 35% of capacity, while museums must restrict entry so that there is 8 square meters of space (86 square feet) per visitor.
From June 9, the French government plans to extend the curfew until 11 p.m. and allow indoor dining in restaurants and bistros from. The final phase of the three-step reopening plan is slated for June 30, when the curfew will end and all other restrictions will be lifted, pandemic conditions permitting.
France has recorded more than 108,000 deaths from Covid-19, among the highest tolls in Europe. But deaths, ICU admissions and the rate of coronavirus infection are now on the decline.
“What matters is the dynamic,” Minister of Health Olivier Veran told BFMTV. Vaccinations “changed the data”.
About 40% of the French adult population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Rain or shine, restrictions or not, many people should enjoy their newfound freedom on Wednesday.
At least that’s what Jérôme Haeffelin, owner of Ponthieu, a right bank bistro in a crowded district of Paris wants. He invested 20,000 euros ($ 24,000) to create an outdoor patio.
“We will strive to uphold (the rules), stack the odds in our favor and stay open for the long haul,” Haeffelin said.