IN PICTURES: The French (and their politicians) head back to café terraces

IN PICTURES: The French (and their politicians) head back to café terraces
Photo: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP
The French on Wednesday joyfully made their way back to cafés as the country loosened restrictions in the latest phase of reopening from Covid restrictions.

Cafés and restaurants with terraces or rooftop gardens can now offer outdoor dining, under the second phase of a lockdown-lifting plan that should culminate in a full reopening of the economy on June 30th – if the health situation permits.

Museums, cinemas and theatres are also reopening after being closed for more than six months, during which they relied chiefly on state aid to remain afloat.

IN DETAIL France’s calendar for reopening

Across Paris, cafes and restaurants had in the last days prepared for the return by setting out outdoor dining areas and the first customers were already sipping their morning expressos.

The establishments have been closed since October 30, 2020, when France entered its second lockdown to beat the coronavirus.

“I already had three customers come drink their coffees. It feels good,” said Pascal who manages the Saint Jean brasserie in the Montmartre district.

“What a change from getting take-away coffee at the bakery!” enthused one of the customers, Cyril.

Keen to show themselves as ‘men of the people’ French politicians also decamped en masse to café terraces for an early morning coffee, croissant and a photo to tweet.

In the western city of Rennes, Patricia Marchand, the manager of the Cafe des Feuilles, said she had reservations even for aperitifs. “It feels good.

“There is a sense of euphoria in the city centre.”

But with the weather service forecasting showers across much of the country – possibly even snow in the Alps – and most venues allowed to use only half of their outdoor seating, some of the 40 percent of French restaurants that boast a terrace are expected to take a rain check on resuming operations

The night-time curfew -albeit pushed back two hours to 9pm – could also put a damper on the revelry, with dining limited to six people per table.

Stephanie Mathey, owner of three Paris bistros, told AFP she was treating this stage of the reopening as a dress rehearsal for the summer.

“Like a diesel engine, we’ll be warming up slowly,” she told AFP.

On June 9th, restaurants will be allowed serve indoors, followed by a further easing of measures on June 30th when the curfew will be fully lifted.

Beyond having a coffee or glass of wine on a terrace, many people are also looking forward to seeing a film in a cinema or catching a play or an exhibition.

“We are glad to be able to welcome you again,” the Louvre museum, the world’s most visited, wrote on its website, where demand was brisk for tickets to a Renaissance sculpture show.

IN DETAIL When do France’s top tourist sites reopen?

In a boost for the economy, non-essential businesses from toys to clothes shops closed since early April when a partial lockdown was ordered, can now reopen with social distancing rules.

The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care had fallen to 4,250 on Monday, down from around 6,000 a month ago.

And the number of cases per 100,000 people in a week has fallen to 142, down from 400 in early April.

Meanwhile, the government’s vaccination drive has accelerated, with over 20 million people receiving at least one shot.

Concert halls, stadiums and other cultural venues are allowed to fill 35 percent of their seats, with a limit of 800 people inside and 1,000 outside.

Cinemas, also shut for the last six months have a huge backlog of movies to show and some film buffs were already up and about to get their fix.

“I did not want to be late for the return,” said Cyril, 24, as he headed into a morning screening of the French comedy “Mandibules” saying he planned so see three films in a single day.

Despite the closures, France over the last half year endured less severe lockdowns than its neighbours – notably avoiding major school closures – in what was seen as a major gamble by President Emmanuel Macron.

Health Minister Olivier Véran told BFM television on Monday he expected the rule on wearing masks outside to be lifted “soon”.

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