France Savours Return Of Cafes And Restaurants

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French cafes and restaurants reopened their doors Tuesday as the country took its latest step out of coronavirus lockdown, with clients seizing the chance to bask on sunny terraces after 10 weeks of closures to fight the outbreak.

"I've missed this so much... we're social animals, after all!" said Rachida, 70, who sipped an espresso while her grandson enjoyed a lemonade at her local cafe in Romainville, a Paris suburb.

There were similar scenes across the country, with nearly every server and many customers wearing face masks at tables kept at least one metre (three feet) apart new under government regulations.

"I'm almost overwhelmed," Martine Depagniat, wearing a beige face mask and sunglasses, said at the Cafe de la Comedie in Paris, just across the street from the Louvre Museum where she works.

"I think people really need a return to normal, even though there's still a bit of nervousness," she said.

In and around Paris, where the coronavirus remains more active than in the rest of mainland France, cafes, bars and restaurants will be limited to outside terraces In and around Paris, where the coronavirus remains more active than in the rest of mainland France, cafes, bars and restaurants will be limited to outside terraces  AFP / BERTRAND GUAY

Although the daily number of COVID-19 deaths in France has fallen steadily, the government says contagion risks remain high in the Paris region, where only outdoor seating and takeout is allowed at restaurants, and dining rooms remain closed.

But in the rest of the country cafes and restaurants are fully open. Some even welcomed customers at the stroke of midnight to celebrate their newfound freedom under a further relaxation of lockdown rules.

All of France's beaches can also reopen Tuesday All of France's beaches can also reopen Tuesday  AFP / VALERY HACHE

"We're leaving our confinement, to rediscover the pleasures and good times spent together," said Frederic de Boulois, president of a regional hotel association in Nantes, western France. He was speaking from the aptly named Prison du Bouffay, a restaurant that sits atop a former mediaeval dungeon.

At the Cafe de Flore, a Left Bank institution in the French capital, waiter Philippe Da Cruz wore a surgical mask over his black vest and impeccably knotted tie as he chatted with clients.

"They're incredibly happy to be back, doing everyday things," he said. "The real deconfinement is now beginning."

French people can again 'live a life which is almost normal', the prime minister said last week French people can again 'live a life which is almost normal', the prime minister said last week  AFP / Ludovic MARIN

The sentiment was shared by President Emmanuel Macron, who tweeted that "The reopening of cafes, hotels and restaurants marks the return of happy days!"

DJs, music, yelling in the kitchen... At midnight and one minute, La Prison du Bouffay restaurant in Nantes reopens its doors and celebrates the end of confinement. Customers waiting outside respected floor markings for social distancing. DJs, music, yelling in the kitchen... At midnight and one minute, La Prison du Bouffay restaurant in Nantes reopens its doors and celebrates the end of confinement. Customers waiting outside respected floor markings for social distancing.  AFPTV / Pierre BUSSIERE

The government credits its strict lockdown, which lasted from March 17 to May 11, with saving thousands of lives by relieving pressure on hospitals, but it is eager to restart an economy devastated by the measures.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday that the economy could shrink 11 percent this year, worse than the eight percent expected just a few weeks ago. The recession could force numerous companies into bankruptcy.

"Get everyone working and try to limit a jobless rate that is going to rise: That is what's at stake for France in the coming months," he told RTL radio -- before heading out for a coffee at a restaurant near the Place de la Bastille in Paris.

In the capital, officials have closed off several streets so that bars and restaurants can install more outdoor seating, and are allowing owners to spread out more on sidewalks and even in parking spaces.

"We're hoping the weather will stay good, because all we have are the terraces," said Petro Jaupi, owner of the Auberge de la Butte in the picturesque Butte aux Cailles neighbourhood of Paris.

"We also hope that clients will be confident enough to come back," he said.

Parks and beaches reopened over the weekend, and more classes in primary and middle schools are now welcoming students countrywide, as well as high schools in the so-called "green zones" were the outbreak has been contained.

Class size has been limited to just 15 students, however, meaning thousands of children still have to work from home.

Public gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned until June 21, and people still have to wear masks in public transport and in the vast majority of stores.

But as of Tuesday, people are also allowed to travel more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) from home, prompting a collective sigh of relief from the tourism sector.

France's StopCovid mobile app, a voluntary system designed to alert users if they have been in close proximity of someone who has tested positive for the virus, is set to be made available Tuesday.

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