France mayors defend allowing ‘non-essential’ shops to open

Head of mayoral association defends decision to allow some shops to open despite lockdown as one Haut-Rhin shopkeeper goes on hunger strike

1 November 2020
By Hannah Thompson

Some mayors across France have signed decrees allowing “non-essential” shops to remain open in defiance of the second lockdown, to “allow people to continue to make a living”, as one shopkeeper goes on hunger strike in protest at the new rules.

Philippe Laurent, general secretary of the mayoral association l’Association des Maires de France (AMF) and the mayor of Sceaux in Hauts-de-Seine, has defended the actions of mayors who have issued decrees allowing so-called “non-essential” shops to remain open in defiance of the lockdown.

Shops that have been allowed to remain open despite not being considered frontline “essentials” include bookshops and media stores such as FNAC.

Mr Laurent told news hub FranceInfo: “We believe that local shops should be able to continue to make a living, and books are a necessary cultural item."

He added that it would be possible to visit these shops within the constraints of confinement, such as going out shopping for necessary items, and said that their opening did not mean that other hygiene recommendations such as mask-wearing and physical distancing should be abandoned.

Mr Laurent admitted that it was “difficult” to find a compromise between protecting people’s health and keeping economic activity going.

“The concern to save lives immediately - which we all share - does not cancel out the economic difficulties that are happening behind the scenes, which also impact human life. So indeed, the government has to walk a tightrope.

“And I believe that the government should work more closely with local figures and professionals, and I am convinced that it is possible to arrive at an acceptable compromise.”

 

Shopkeeper hunger strike

Mr Laurent’s comments come as a shopkeeper in Blotzheim in Haut-Rhin has gone on hunger strike in protest at the new lockdown closure of “non-essential” shops.

Véronique Weingarten is the co-owner, with her mother, of a women’s clothing shop on the Franco-Swiss border. She has started her hunger strike in a bid to alert the local authorities and government, saying that this new lockdown will endanger her business, and is not fair to smaller shops compared to larger supermarkets.

She said: “This will be the death of small business.” She is aiming to get her message “high up in government, to Mr [President] Macron”, she added.

She said that in her shop, “all barrier measures are applied” to ensure safe browsing. She said: “It is totally illogical that supermarkets can continue to sell shoes, bags, clothes and books [and we cannot]”.

As part of her protest, Ms Weingarten has set up a tent in front of her shop, where she will be everyday, and has also installed a bed near the front window of her shop.

She will be monitored by her doctor to ensure that she does not put her health in immediate danger.

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