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French restaurants hope to open for lunch in late March

A three-step plan for reopening of restaurants and bars in France was discussed by government ministers and union representatives in a meeting on March 5 

8 March 2021
Empty chairs in a restaurant. French restaurants hope to open for lunch in late MarchQR codes and the government TousAntiCovid app may be used to help restaurants reopen safely
By Joanna York

Restaurants in France now hope to reopen for lunch at the end in March, with extra health protocols in place, following a meeting held last week with the prime minister’s office.

Evening opening would follow in early April under the suggested plans.

Restaurants, cafes and bars have now been closed for over four months in France, since October 29, 2020.

Reopening was originally planned for January 20 but was postponed, as daily cases remained higher than government aims and health experts feared a spike in the virus spread following Christmas and New Year celebrations.

No new date for reopening has been given so far.

See the latest daily figures here: Coronavirus: Daily updates on the situation in France

Three-step reopening plan proposed

On March 5, representatives from the hospitality industry met with Prime Minister Jean Castex and other leading government ministers to outline a three-step plan for reopening. 

Representatives said the first step should include restaurants being allowed to open for customers at lunch, and hotel restaurants being able to serve meals to guests from the end of March.

This follows a recent call from MPs for restaurants to be able to open for lunch in March.

The second phase, allowing restaurants opening for evening services, would begin from April 10.

Bars and nightclubs would be able to open from June, in the third phase.

This plan could be adapted in regions where the health situation is more serious, representatives said, such as the north-west coast of France.

Didier Chenet, president of hospitality union GNI, told newspaper Le Monde: “Brittany and the Atlantic coast could be the leader [in this group].” 

Reopening depends on vaccine success

This timeline follows messages from the government that the current health restrictions may be eased in the coming weeks.

Macron: France curfew will continue four to six more weeks

In a speech on March 4, Prime Minister Jean Castex said that “it was not yet time to lighten restrictions anywhere”, but that he could envisage restrictions easing from mid-April. 

But, the prime minister did not give a more precise date in Friday’s meeting.

Jean-Virgile Crance, president of hotel union GNC-UMIH, told news source Ouest France: “He made it clear that the key is that vulnerable people in France must be vaccinated [before we can open], which should be the case by mid-April or mid-May.”

As of March 6, figures from the Health Ministry show that a third of all people aged 75 and over in France have been given at least a first dose of the vaccine.

Possible new health measures

Possible new health measures for reopened restaurants were also discussed at the meeting.

As the government has debated introducing a Covid health pass to allow access to public spaces, representatives from the hospitality industry said they were against the idea of “vaccine passports” for customers.

Instead, a source told Le Monde that they envisaged the TousAntiCovid app would be “at the heart of contact tracing” in restaurants.

Introducing QR codes into establishments for customers to digitally register their presence is also being considered.

Union representatives said that they hoped other health measures put in place in Autumn 2020 would remain the same, including tables of up to six customers with an enforced one-metre distance between them.

Unions call for financial aid

Hospitality representatives also called for more financial aid for the sector, including continuing total coverage for chômage partiel benefits until June 30, or while establishments are completely or partially closed.

In a meeting with Work Minister Elisabeth Borne on March 3, representatives said that many jobs had been saved thanks to current measures. These include the government covering 100% of partial unemployment benefits for workers in establishments forced into closure, as a result of the health pandemic.

They said that reducing the amount of government coverage would lead to a wave of lay-offs in the sector.

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