Basking in spring sunshine, restaurants, bars and cafes throughout France reopened their doors to customers on Tuesday morning with tables positioned at least one meter apart, kicking off the second phase of de-confinement in the country.
Museums and parks are now allowed to welcome back visitors, students are returning to schools and people can visit swimming pools, gyms, amusement parks and theaters again in so-called “green” zones where the lockdown curbs are further relaxed.
Unlimited travel is now permitted between the country’s regions, and people can once again enjoy the sun and the sea as the beaches have also reopened.
Like millions of French citizens, Narjess, 41, an English teacher at a training center in Paris, enjoyed this big day after she had been forced to stay at home for nearly three months.
“At last, I can find my daily life as before the confinement. It’s a great pleasure. I’m so happy to see again my colleagues and students, and this fills me with energy,” she said.
France had started 15-day nationwide confinement at midday on March 17 to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The confinement was extended twice and ended on May 11, when France cautiously started the first phase in easing some restrictions.
During this second phase, “freedom will become the rule again and bans will be the exception,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said last week when he unveiled his de-confinement strategy.
However, the greater Paris area (Ile-de-France region) as well as the overseas territories of Mayotte and Guiana remains “exceptions.” In these areas, still in the higher-risk “orange” category, restaurants, bars and cafes can serve their clients on outdoor terraces only. People there must wait three more weeks if they want to go to swimming pools, attend concerts or exercise outdoors.
“The reopening of cafes, hotels and restaurants marks the return of happy days! There is no doubt that the French will find this part of the French spirit, our culture and our way of life again,” President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
About 300,000 restaurants and cafes were allowed to receive customers on Tuesday, 60,000 of them in Paris and its suburbs. Some 500,000 workers in the sector resumed their work, according to Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
Since mid-April, the coronavirus situation in France has improved, paving the way for the government to further relax the restrictions, allowing a gradual return to normalcy while maintaining a high level of vigilance to avoid a second wave.
As of Monday, France had 14,288 people hospitalized with COVID-19 infection, 1,302 of them in intensive care. The overall death toll stood at 28,833, with a single day-rise of 31, the lowest daily toll since early April when the pandemic was at its peak and took as many lives as 1,400 in one day.
To Genevieve Chene, head of the public health agency Sante Publique France (SPF), “the indicators are very favorable.” However, she warned that the virus is still here even if its circulation is slowing.
“We should remain cautious. This is the first time that we see this virus, and this epidemic has produced some surprises, such as the contagiousness of asymptomatic cases,” Chene told France 2 TV.