Publish: 17 Oct 2020, 02:45 pm
On Friday, millions of French people enjoyed their last night of freedom before the Covid-19 curfew came into effect in Paris and other major cities at midnight for at least a month, followed by an unprecedented increase in new cases.
The curfew aims to hold some 20 million people at home, 30 per cent of the French population, from 9 pm to 6 am on Saturday.
As the number of new infections and deaths raised the spectre of hospital overloads such as those seen in March and April, it was ordered by President Emmanuel Macron this week.
More than 25,00 new cases of coronavirus were registered by health authorities on Friday, after Thursday's record of over 30,000. In 24 hours, a total of 122 individuals were said to have died of the virus.
The mood in the streets of the capital Paris ahead of the curfew taking effect was something akin to New Year‘s Eve, with tables overflowing in bars and the sound of laughter in the air.
“We will enjoy it as much as possible, a restaurant, bar hopping and a little walk with friends on the Champs-Elys, es”, said 19-year-old Kurtys Magdelo who was out with friends.
– ‘Never seen anything like it’ –
Sophie Vaux, an epidemiologist at the Sante Publique health department, told reporters that new infections have been growing most rapidly among older people, with reported cases up by about two-thirds over the past six weeks.
The situation in retirement homes has again become “very worrying”, the agency said.
On Friday, the ARS Health Authority for the southeastern Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region , which includes Grenoble, Lyon and Saint-Etienne, requested hospitals to cancel all non-urgent operations to safeguard the ability of intensive care for potential cases of Covid.
Although the curfew has widespread public support, a Harris Interactive poll found 70 percent approval after Macron's announcement, officials in many cities were concerned about the high social and economic costs of a policy set to last four weeks, or even six if the health situation does not improve.
Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris encourages the government to relax the regulations for theaters, cinemas and other cultural venues so that consumers can later return home.
– ‘Loss of daily pleasures’ –
Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot backed the idea, but Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire poured cold water on any special treatment for live shows.
“If we start allowing multiple exceptions,” he told French TV, “we’re not going to make it”.
Prime Minister Jean Castex added Friday: “The rules must apply to everyone”.
Restaurant owners have complained bitterly about a measure they say makes little sense given the strict social distancing rules they have already applied.
“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.
Michele Rubirola, the mayor of Marseille, said that people paid the price "through the deprivation of their everyday pleasures, their liberty, or through economic hardship."
For activities tolerated during the curfew, such as walking their dog or risking a fine of 135 euros ($160) just as during the two-month lockout earlier this year, people would need a signed certificate or an electronic version downloaded to the computer.
Repeat offenders could face fines of up to 3,750 euros ($4,400).
– No travel restrictions –
The curfew measure, just ahead of the start of a two-week school holiday, contains no travel restrictions, raising the prospect that huge numbers of families will flee cities for the country.
That prompted officials in Le Touquet, a popular resort town on the
English Channel, to impose its own curfew, with bars and restaurants ordered to close at 11:30 pm. Nationwide, wedding celebrations and other parties in public venues, as well as student parties, have been outlawed, and people are being urged to limit gatherings in private homes to six people.
“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,”
Macron said Wednesday when he also put the country back in a state of emergency for health beginning Saturday.
The public broadcaster France Television said that by adding a feature film every night to its regular programming, mainly during prime time, it will do its best to support people during the curfew.