Paris is rediscovering its joie de vivre, as cafes and restaurants reopen for the first time since coronavirus forced them to close on March 14.
Many customers seemed to shrug off masks and social distancing as they streamed back to their neighbourhood bistros for a morning espresso or a three-course lunch, free to resume their lifestyles by a surprise announcement from French President Emmanuel Macron.
“We will rediscover … the art of living, our taste for freedom,” Mr Macron said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday night, citing progress in fighting the virus. “We will rediscover France.”
After two months of being totally shut down as part of France’s strict virus lockdown measures, restaurants outside the Paris region opened earlier this month. Since June 2, Paris cafes have been allowed to serve people outside but not open their doors. Before Mr Macron’s speech, the full reopening was not expected until later this month.
At the Cafe Des Anges in the heart of the Bastille neighbourhood of Paris, customers seemed happy to reconnect and talked about the need to remain careful – yet almost no one wore a mask. France has the world’s fifth-highest recorded death toll from the virus, at 29,410.
“It’s like a renaissance, but with caution,” said customer Marie-Elisabeth Vilaine.
The reopening caught many restaurant owners off guard – just like the abrupt closure three months ago, when the prime minister announced that all the country’s restaurants had to shut down by midnight.
Paris seemed especially depressing as restaurants, the lifeblood of the city, stood closed with chairs stacked against the windows and menus gathering dust.
After three months of losses, some restaurateurs fear it will take a long time for business to come back. Some French restaurants are experimenting with plastic barriers and air-filtration systems to soothe fears. The risk of a second wave of infections remains real, notably after new virus clusters in some countries and US states were traced back to reopened restaurants or other sites.
France opened its borders to other European countries on Monday, as did several of its neighbours, in the hope of luring some visitors back. But tourists from the US, Asia and other continents will not be allowed back until at least July 1, and French authorities could reimpose restrictions in the case of new infections.
British tourists face a 14-day quarantine when they enter France now.