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France deconfinement: What is opening from May 19?

Restaurant and cafe terraces will open, as will public spaces such as cinemas at reduced capacity – but health authorities advise caution

17 May 2021
A restaurant terrace with a couple seated at one table. France deconfinement: What is opening from May 19 this week?

The openings mark the start of the second phase of deconfinement, according to the government’s current timetable Pic: Anna Urlapova / Pexels / Pexels License

By Hannah Thompson

Restaurant terraces and cultural centres are set to open, and the curfew is to be extended to 21:00, from Wednesday this week (May 19). We explain how it will work.

The openings mark the start of the second phase of deconfinement, according to the government’s current timetable.

Director-General of Health, Professor Jérôme Salomon, told le Journal du Dimanche (JDD): “General wellbeing is also about resuming social contact.” 

Yet, he reminded people of the need to remain cautious and respect health protocols.

The key dates for reopening in France

  • Cinemas. With a capacity limit of 35% and 800 people maximum.
  • Museums, theatres, libraries, open-air zoos. With a reduced capacity to enable physical distancing.
  • Bars, cafes and restaurants. Outdoor areas only, at 50% capacity and tables of six people maximum. Restaurants with fewer than 10 tables outside will not have to respect the 50% capacity limits, if they place plexiglass, a windbreaker, or plants between tables.

Read more: Covid France: How will the weather be when terraces reopen on May 19?

But some restaurateurs have criticised the plans.

Philippe Etchebest, chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Quatrième Mur in Bordeaux and celebrity chef judge on TV show Top Chef, will not be reopening his establishment’s terrace on Wednesday. 

He has said that the risks of reopening from a business perspective, as well as the uncertainty of the weather forecast for this week, make the situation too uncertain.

He told the JDD: “Imagine reopening a big machine. Redoing the menu, making all the staff come back in, but then having to cancel everything and throw everything away because it’s raining? Impossible.

“Not everyone is affected anyway; barely 40% of restaurants in France have a terrace.”

Curfew extension

The curfew will be extended from 19:00 to 21:00, to allow people to attend later sittings at cinemas, theatres, and restaurants.

Increased vaccination

The next stage of deconfinement comes as the government works to speed up its vaccination campaign even further.

President Emmanuel Macron confirmed on May 15 that the country had hit its target to administer 20 million first injections by mid-May. The next target is 30 million by mid-June.

Read more: France hits target of 20 million first Covid vaccinations by mid-May

Since Wednesday May 12 anyone aged 18 or over can register for next-day appointments to be vaccinated where a dose may otherwise go to waste.

From June 15, all adults – regardless of any health conditions, or none – will be able to book any appointment for vaccination. The health minister has said this date could be brought forward if the situation allows.

‘Emergency brakes’

The government and health authorities have always been clear that the reopening stages will be carefully monitored, and that ‘emergency brakes’ may be applied if necessary.

The threshold for this has been set at 400 new Covid cases per 100,000 inhabitants over seven days.

Professor Salomon said: “If the local situation requires it, we will take measures to return to the previous stage [of confinement]. If necessary, and in consultation with local authorities, we will lockdown again locally.

He added that the country was not “sheltered” from a hypothetical fourth wave of the epidemic.

He said: “Collective immunity will only be achieved once we have successfully rolled out vaccination, and reduced the spread of the virus to a minimum.”

The latest figures from Santé publique France (May 16) show that there were 13,948 cases in the past 24 hours, and 81 deaths. The positivity test level is at 4.4%, and there were 5,557 hospitalisations over the past seven days, of which 1,256 were to critical care units, with 853 into intensive care.

Next stage

The next stage of deconfinement is scheduled to begin on June 9, health situation permitting. 

If it goes as planned, cafés and restaurants will be able to seat customers indoors – at reduced capacity – and the curfew will be extended again to 23:00.

Capacity for cultural centres such as cinemas and theatres will also be increased.

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