Grand day for the French: Cafe and bistro terraces reopen

AP , Wednesday 19 May 2021

President Emmanuel Macron, among the first to take a seat at a cafe terrace, was seen chatting with customers and with Prime Minister Jean Castex, projecting a mood of measured optimism

Grand day for the French
It’s a grand day for the French.Cafe and restaurant terraces reopened Wednesday after a six-month coronavirus shutdown deprived residents of the essence of French life.AP

It's a grand day for the French. Cafe and restaurant terraces reopened 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 lifting restrictions incrementally to stave off a resurgence of COVID-19 and to give citizens back some of their signature ``joie de vivre.'' As part of the plan's first stage, France's 7 p.m. nightly curfew was pushed back to 9 p.m. and museums, theaters and cinemas reopened along with outdoor cafe terraces.

President Emmanuel Macron, among the first to take a seat at a cafe terrace, was seen chatting with customers and with Prime Minister Jean Castex, projecting a mood of measured optimism.

``Let's get used to try and live together,`` Macron told reporters at the cafe. ``If we manage to get well organized collectively and continue vaccinating, have a common discipline as citizens, there's no reason why we can't continue moving forward.''

Castex planned to attend a cinema later Wednesday. Actress Emmanuel Beart, meanwhile, went to a movie theater opening in Paris where her latest film ``L'Etreinte'' (``The Embrace``) was showing  among the scores of movies produced during the shutdown.

France is not the first European country to start getting back a semblance of social and cultural life. Italy, Belgium, Hungary and other nations already have started allowing outdoor dining, while drinking and eating indoors began Monday in Britain's pubs.

Eateries in France have been closed since the end of October, the longest time of any European country except Poland, where bars and restaurants reopened Saturday for outdoor service after being closed for seven months.

French cafe and restaurant owners spent days preparing for Wednesday's milestone, despite the rainy weather.

Still, the government has put limits on how much fun can be had. Restaurants are can fill only 50% of their outdoor seating areas and put no more than six people at a table. Movie theaters can only seat 35% of capacity, while museums must restrict entries to give more space between visitors.

Starting June 9, the French government plans to extend the curfew until 11 p.m. and to permit indoor dining. The final phase of the three-stage reopening plan is scheduled for June 30, when the curfew will end and all other restrictions will be lifted, if pandemic conditions allow.

Macron's plan to bring France out of the pandemic aren't just about resuscitating long-closed restaurants, boutiques and museums, but also about preparing his possible campaign for a second term. Before next year's presidential election, Macron is focusing on saving jobs and reviving the pandemic-battered French economy.

France has recorded more than 108,000 deaths due to COVID-19, among the highest tolls in Europe. But virus deaths, admissions to critical care units and the coronavirus infection rate are now on the decline.

``What counts is the dynamic,'' Health Minister Olivier Veran told BFMTV, adding that vaccinations ``have changed the givens.''

About 40% of France's adult population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose - a rate well behind Britain's 70% and still behind several other EU nations.

Tourists waited excitedly as the cordon around the world's most visited museum and home of the ``Mona Lisa'', the Louvre, was finally lifted.

``It means a lot, you know. It means COVID-19 is starting to finish, when it's the opening of all museums and public areas,'' said Walid Hneini, a Lebanese tourist.

Benoit Puez, a Parisian art lover, was more understated but still pleased about France opening up.

``Maybe I didn't really miss it, but we are happy it's reopening. It's a stage.''

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