PARIS – French authorities placed the Paris region on maximum virus alert on Monday, banning festive gatherings and requiring all bars to close but allowing restaurants to remain open, as numbers of infections increased rapidly.
Paris police prefect Didier Lallement announced the new restrictions would apply at least for the next two weeks.
“We are continuously adapting to the reality of the virus. We are taking measures to slow down (its spread)," he said.
French authorities consider bars to be major infection hot spots because patrons don't respect social distancing rules as much as they do at restaurants.
Starting on Tuesday, bars will be closed in Paris and its suburbs. Student parties and all other festive and family events in establishments open to the public will be banned.
Restaurants will remain open under strict conditions. They include a minimum one-meter (three-foot) distance between each table, groups limited to six people instead of 10 previously, and a request to register customers' names and phone numbers to help alert those who may have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus .
Indoor sport facilities, including swimming pools, will only be open to children aged under 18. Gyms are already closed.
Cinemas, theaters and museums will remain open with strict sanitary rules, but fairs and professional shows won’t be allowed.
Authorities have maintained the limit of 1,000 spectators per day at big sports events, allowing the Roland-Garros tennis tournament to continue as planned this week.
The director of the Regional Health Authority, Aurelien Rousseau, said about 3,500 new cases of infection are confirmed on average each day in the Paris region, and 36% of ICU beds in the area are occupied by COVID-19 patients.
The owner of one Paris eatery north of the Bastille felt relief that the measures mean only reasonable constraints for restaurants. He even saw a silver lining.
“I'm relieved that I don't have to close and that the rules are not more stringent,” said Virgil Grunberg, who owns Le Square Gardette.
“It's even worse for bars, because they are going to be closed, so people are going to need places to have a drink and hang out,” Grunberg said. "So I think (customers) are not going to be scared by the new restrictions.”
For Adele Fardoux, 26, a client at Cafe des Anges around the corner from the Place de la Bastille, there is some logic to what sometimes feels “like it's a mess.”
“I think it's an unprecedented situation for everybody — citizens, companies, government — and I think collectively we're all trying to do our best.”
The alert has already been raised to the maximum level for 12 days in the southern city of Marseille and nearby Aix-en-Provence, as well as the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean.
Authorities ordered the shutdown of all public venues, including bars and restaurants in these areas, which prompted several demonstrations from angry business owners in Marseille.
On Monday, local authorities announced restaurants in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence would reopen on condition they respect the same restrictions as in Paris.
French health authorities reported on Saturday 16,972 new cases of infection, the highest daily number since the country began widespread testing. The number of new daily cases dipped on Monday to 5,084.
France, one of the hardest hit in Europe, has reported 32,299 virus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.