Relief for Paris restaurants as virus lockdown ends
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Paris cafe and restaurant owners cheered Monday as the government allowed them to reopen their dining rooms after three months of lost revenue during the coronavirus lockdown.
The sooner-than-expected reopening for the Paris region was announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday as news came of France's lowest daily COVID-19 toll since March -- nine deaths in 24 hours.
While restaurants across most of France were allowed to open earlier this month, those in and around the capital, where circulation of the coronavirus remained high, could serve clients only on outdoor terraces until now.
"The question now is whether clients will come back," Albert Aidan, the manager at L'Ami Georges, a few blocks from the Opera Garnier, told AFP.
"Most companies are still having their employees work from home," he said. Several nearby restaurants remained closed.
Many shared Macron's optimism that France has marked a "first victory" against the coronavirus thanks to strict stay-at-home orders imposed in March.
"It's going to be a party," Stephane Manigold, owner of four Paris restaurants, including the two-starred Maison Rostang, told AFP.
Manigold has successfully sued his insurer, French giant Axa, to pay some 70,000 euros ($79,000) in compensation for lost business.
Didier Chenet, head of the GNI association of independent hotel and restaurant owners, estimates that social distancing rules which saw restaurants remove tables to ensure a distance of one metre (3.3 feet) between diners, have cut capacity by half at least.
Unless the government lifts the one-metre rule, he said, "recovery will be very slow, with economic conditions that are not viable for our businesses," he said.
'Can't open in a day'
Foreign tourists, the key ingredient for success at Paris restaurants in particular, are not expected to arrive in pre-COVID numbers anytime soon, even as the EU begins to tentatively open up its internal borders.
The first train from Paris to Germany since mid-March left the Gare du Nord station early Monday, heading for Dortmund.
"We're taking the children to see their grandmother and spend some holiday time together as a family. It feels good after so long!" said one passenger, Alexis.
Not all borders are open, though. Hard-hit Spain, for example, will allow free travel with the rest of the EU only from June 21.
Many Paris restaurants said they will need time to restock and get their employees back, and some complained about the short notice that came from Macron only Sunday evening.
"At best we'll open two restaurants on Wednesday, and the others next week," said Manigold.
"One day maybe politicians will understand that you can't just open a restaurant in a day. They could have avoided the abruptness," he added.
Francisco Ferrandez of La Bocca in central Paris said he started calling his employees after Macron's address.
"It's like with the closure, everything at the last minute. When they announced the closure, we had to throw away fresh produce, and for the reopening they tell us from one day to the next."
The COVID-19 epidemic has claimed more than 29,000 lives in France, one of the world's highest reported tolls.
Health Minister Olivier Veran on Monday proclaimed that "the bulk of the epidemic is behind us" but warned the virus was "not completely defeated."
This meant things will not be returning quite to normal for a while.
Alain Fontaine, owner of Le Mesturet, and his staff worked between spaced-out tables amid arrows on the floor to show clients where to walk ahead of reopening his dining room Tuesday.
Clients will be asked to use sanitising hand gel on entry and keep their masks on until seated, he said.
"We'll have to try to alleviate the nervousness...," Fontaine told AFP.
And in Lyon in the east, the brasserie Georges -- one of Europe's largest -- welcomed some 50 clients on Monday for lunch with a reduced staff and only half its tables available.
Awaiting her order after having her temperature taken and disinfecting her hands, 71-year-old Genevieve Beaujolin said she could not imagine returning home to Italy "without eating a sauerkraut at the Brasserie George's!"