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 Prime Minister Jean Castex, who was attending a movie later in the day.
Actress Emmanuel Beart went to a movie theater opening in the center of 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.
Some French cafe and restaurant owners have spent days preparing for Wednesday’s milestone, even though rain is forecast for large swaths of the country, including Paris.
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 so there is 8 square meters of space (86 square feet) per visitor.
Starting June 9, the French government plans to extend the curfew until 11 p.m. and to permit indoor dining at restaurants and bistros starting. 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.
France has recorded more than 108,000 deaths due to COVID-19, among the highest tolls in Europe. But 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. Vaccinations “have changed the givens.”
About 40% of France’s adult population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Rain or shine, restrictions or not, a good number of people are expected to take advantage of their new freedom on Wednesday.
At least that’s what Jérôme Haeffelin, the owner of Le Ponthieu, a Right Bank bistro in a crowded district of Paris, hopes. He invested 20,000 euros ($24,000) to create an outdoor terrace.
“We’ll try hard to enforce (the rules), to stack the odds in our favor and stay open in the long run,” Haeffelin said.