Last night out in France as 20 million as virus curfew imposed

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PARIS, Oct 17, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Millions of French people enjoyed a last
night of freedom on Friday before a Covid-19 curfew in Paris and other large
cities came into force at midnight, for a least a month, prompted by an
alarming surge in new cases.

The curfew aims to keep some 20 million people home from 9 pm to 6 am from
Saturday — 30 percent of the French population.

It was ordered by President Emmanuel Macron this week as the number of new
infections and deaths raised the spectre of hospital overloads like those
seen in March and April.

Health authorities on Friday recorded more than 25,00 new coronavirus
cases, after Thursday’s record of over 30,000. A total of 122 people were
said to have died of the virus in 24 hours.

The mood in the streets of the capital Paris ahead of the curfew taking
effect was something akin to New Year ‘s Eve, with tables overflowing in bars
and the sound of laughter in the air.

“We will enjoy it as much as possible, a restaurant, bar hopping and a
little walk with friends on the Champs-Elys,es”, said 19-year-old Kurtys
Magdelo who was out with friends.

– ‘Never seen anything like it’ –

New infections have been rising most rapidly among older citizens, with
confirmed cases up by around two-thirds over the past six weeks, Sophie Vaux,
an epidemiologist at the Sante Publique health agency, told reporters.

The situation in retirement homes has again become “very worrying”, the
agency said.

The ARS health authority for the southeastern Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region,
which includes Grenoble, Lyon and Saint-Etienne, on Friday asked hospitals to
cancel all non-urgent surgery to safeguard intensive care capacity for future
Covid cases.

While the curfew has broad public support — a Harris Interactive poll
after Macron’s announcement found 70 percent approval — officials in several
cities worried about the heavy social and economic costs of a measure set to
last four weeks, or possibly six if the health situation fails to improve.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pressing the government to ease the rules for
theatres, cinemas and other cultural venues so that patrons can return home
later.

– ‘Loss of daily pleasures’ –

Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot backed the idea, but Finance Minister
Bruno Le Maire poured cold water on any special treatment for live shows.

“If we start allowing multiple exceptions,” he told French TV, “we’re not
going to make it”.

Prime Minister Jean Castex added Friday: “The rules must apply to
everyone”.

Restaurant owners have complained bitterly about a measure they say makes
little sense given the strict social distancing rules they have already
applied.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in the 50 years I’ve been here,” said
Stain Roman, manager of La Mere Buonavista restaurant in Marseille, another
city facing the curfew.

Marseille’s mayor Michele Rubirola said residents were paying the price
“through the loss of their daily pleasures, their freedom, or through
economic hardship”.

People will need a signed certificate or an electronic version downloaded
to a phone for activities allowed during the curfew, such as walking their
dog, or risk a fine of 135 euros ($160) just like during the two-month
lockdown earlier this year.

Repeat offenders could face fines of up to 3,750 euros ($4,400).

– No travel restrictions –

The curfew measure, just ahead of the start of a two-week school holiday,
contains no travel restrictions, raising the prospect that huge numbers of
families will flee cities for the country.

That prompted officials in Le Touquet, a popular resort town on the
English Channel, to impose its own curfew, with bars and restaurants ordered
to close at 11:30 pm. Nationwide, wedding celebrations and other parties in
public venues as well as student parties have been outlawed, and people are
being urged to limit gatherings in private homes to six people.

“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,”
Macron said Wednesday when he also put the country back under a health state
of emergency starting Saturday.

Public broadcaster France Television said it would do its bit to help
people through the curfew by adding a feature film every night to its usual
programming, mostly during prime time.

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