Costumers speak with a waiter on a cafe terrace in Biarritz, French Basque country, on May 19, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
PARIS – France on Wednesday took an important step forward towards returning to normality as people in the country can once again meet up in cafes or enjoy a meal in restaurants, which are now allowed to open their terraces.
"Here we go! Terraces, museums, cinemas, theaters … Let's rediscover the things that make up the art of living," President Emmanuel Macron wrote on his Twitter account early on Wednesday.
He also posted a video of himself and Prime Minister Jean Castex kicking off the second phase of de-confinement in the country on the terrace of a cafe in Paris.
Despite the unseasonable weather, people in the French capital flocked to the streets, excited about the prospect of a return of social life.
Although the terrace of L'Etang brasserie in L'Isle-Adam, north Paris, was a little chilly in the drizzle, Mathieu, a kindergarten teacher who gave only his first name, told Xinhua it was a real pleasure to have a drink outside, which for him was a clear sign of a return to normality.
"The previous months were hard to endure so I've decided to cheer this important day by having a drink even alone," he said with a big smile.
Under the government's current plan to gradually relax the confinement measures, a maximum of six people per table are now allowed to be served on restaurant and cafe terraces. Museums, theaters, cinemas and sports facilities can now reopen to a maximum of 800 people indoors and 1,000 outdoors
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Patrice, the brasserie's manager who likewise gave only his first name, said he was a "little optimistic."
"People have been accustomed to staying at home. I hope they will come out. We will see. It's the first day," he said.
"As the virus is still circulating, even though at a slower pace, concerns remain and the risk of returning to lockdown remains," he added.
After six months of closure, cultural venues also opened their doors. Pictures on social media showed long queues in front of cinemas and museums, which are now allowed to operate at 35 percent capacity.
"It's like a breath of fresh air," said Juliana, an insurance group employee who gave her first name, adding that she has been working remotely since March.
Juliana said she planned to watch "Bye Bye Morons," Albert Dupontel's dark comedy that was the big winner at the 2021 Cesar Awards, France's top film honor. "I missed going out a lot. When we have an opportunity to enjoy life despite the coronavirus, we have to seize it as we don't know how long that will last."
Visitors sits in front of " The Raft of the Medusa" by the French painter and lithographer Theodore Gericault at the Louvre Museum in Paris on May 19, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)
Hospitality venues across the country have been forced to remain closed in the past six months. When the second lockdown, imposed last November, was lifted in January, the planned reopening of bars, restaurants and cultural venues was eventually postponed. Then, in early April, France was forced by the appearance of more infectious COVID-19 strains to enter into its third national lockdown.
Under the government's current plan to gradually relax the confinement measures, a maximum of six people per table are now allowed to be served on restaurant and cafe terraces. Museums, theaters, cinemas and sports facilities can now reopen to a maximum of 800 people indoors and 1,000 outdoors.
The night-time curfew is now pushed back by two hours to 9 pm, then to 11 pm from June 9, before being removed later in June.
The country has seen its COVID-19 incidence rate decrease in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care dropped for the 15th day in a row to 4,015. A total of 22,058 people remained hospitalized, down 691 in one day, confirming a downward trend first reported on May 4.
The cumulative total of confirmed coronavirus infections now stands at nearly 5.9 million. On average, 14,000 new daily cases were reported over the past seven days against 40,000 in early April.
"We must remain cautious and collectively succeed in controlling the epidemic," Macron told journalists on Wednesday.
"The (pandemic) figures are on the right path. The number of cases per day continues to drop … If in the coming weeks and months it goes up in some places, we will adapt the measures," he said.
According to Health Minister Olivier Veran, France will be able to "turn the page" on COVID-19 by winter — unless new virus variants emerge.
"I think that by November or December … if there are new variants and enough people get vaccinated … we will be able to state that the pandemic is behind us," he told LCI television.
"Now is not the time to relax our efforts," commented Pascal Crepey, an epidemiologist and professor at the French School of Public Health (EHESP). "It's important to reduce the circulation of the virus before the lockdown is further relaxed, otherwise we risk a resurgence in infections."
People walk past the Galeries Lafayette department in Paris, France, on May 19, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
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"Vaccination is a game-changer. The more people we vaccinate, the better the situation will be," he told BFMTV news television.
To date, over 21 million people in France have received a first COVID-19 vaccine dose, representing 40.2 percent of the adult population, and 9.12 million (or 17.4 percent) have completed their inoculation.
The French government aims to vaccinate 30 million people, or two-thirds of the country's adult population, by the middle of June.
A study published in April by France's Pasteur Institute concludes that since the COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom is now dominant in France, a full 90 percent of adults will need to be vaccinated before the country can get back to normal.