Millions of French people prepared Friday to enjoy a last night of freedom before a Covid-19 curfew in Paris and other large cities, after officials warned that new efforts were needed to curb an alarming surge in new cases.
The curfew, which aims to keep some 20 million people home from 9pm to 6am, was unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron this week as the number of new infections and deaths raised the spectre of hospital overloads like those seen in March and April.
Health authorities reported Thursday a record 30,621 new cases in the past 24 hours and 88 deaths, and over 200 new Covid admissions to intensive care units.
While the curfew has broad public support – a Harris Interactive poll after Macron’s announcement found 70% approval – officials in several cities worried about the heavy social and economic costs of a measure set to last at least a month.
The new nighttime restrictions come into force for the first time at midnight on Friday in the capital and eight other major regional cities.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pressing the government to ease the rules for theatres, cinemas and other cultural venues so that patrons can return home later, with details on the rules in the capital expected later Friday.
Restaurant owners have also complained bitterly about a measure they say makes little sense given the strict social distancing rules they have already applied, and noting that groups of less than six can still gather for lunch.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in the 50 years I’ve been here,” said Stain Roman, manager of La Mere Buonavista restaurant in Marseille, another city facing the curfew.
She said she would close down entirely at night, as have hundreds of other restaurants across France. “What else can we do? Our employees have to be home by 9pm,” she said.
Marseille’s Mayor Michele Rubirola – herself a doctor – contested a measure she said resulted from the government’s insufficient efforts to bolster hospital systems over the last few months.
She said residents were paying the price “by the loss of their daily pleasures, their freedom, or through economic hardship, because the bar and restaurant industry is being hit extremely hard.”
Prime Minister Jean Castex confirmed Thursday that the curfew requires nearly all businesses would have to shut their doors, except for essential services, with “everybody home from 9 to 6”.
A signed attestation or an electronic version downloaded to a phone will be needed for people walking their dogs or other exceptions, or risk a fine of €135 (US$160) — the same as during the two-month lockdown during the height of the pandemic.
That prompted the French cinemas federation to warn of “extremely serious” consequences for the sector, urging authorities to let people return later for films that end after 9pm.
Officials have also outlawed wedding celebrations and other parties in public venues as well as student parties, and urged people to limit gatherings in private homes to six people as well.
“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” Macron said Wednesday, when he also put the entire country back under a health state of emergency.
The move notably requires all restaurants to require clients to provide contact details so that authorities can contact them if a coronavirus infection is reported.