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France's bars, restaurants and ski resorts fear extension of COVID-19 restrictions

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A man pushes his bicycle along a row of closed restaurants in Montmartre during the new imposed curfew in Paris, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020
A man pushes his bicycle along a row of closed restaurants in Montmartre during the new imposed curfew in Paris, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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French bars, restaurants, museums and ski resorts are bracing themselves for yet another delay to their reopening time as the number of COVID-19 infections continue to plateau at a high level.

Prime Minister Jean Castex is to outline the government's strategy during a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

Cultural venues had hoped to reopen their doors before Christmas but the easing was scrapped by the government in mid-December as the number of new daily infections remained much higher than the 5,000 threshold it had set as the country entered its second national lockdown in late October.

The government's timetable also aimed for hospitality businesses to reopen on January 20 but that also now looks highly uncertain.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal warned on Wednesday the country faces "several tough months" as the epidemiological situation remains "worrying".

"For several weeks now, we've been on a plateau, a relatively high plateau with an average of around 15,000 contamination per day," he added.

He said that protecting the country from the pandemic "means taking the necessary measures to stop it even if they are difficult".

Didier Chenet, the president of the GNI union representing hospitality businesses, said on Tuesday following a meeting with economy minister Bruno Le Maire that a reopening in two weeks' times was all but forgotten.

Jean-Virgile Crance, who leads the GNC union for hotel chains, and who was also present at the meeting, warned that "the decision will likely be made not to reopen on January 20".

'A matter of survival'

For ski resorts, the beginning of the season is also set to be pushed back. The government banned resorts from operating lifts during the end of year festive season and had floated January 7 as a possible date for easing.

But Attal doused hopes on Wednesday, telling reporters that "this date has been announced as a meeting point, a moment of review, but not as a date for reopening".

The Mountain Defence Council, which comprises bodies representing resorts, the mayors of resort towns and mountain professionals, said that allowing them to operate lifts as soon as possible is " a matter of survival".

"The Christmas holidays proved that the mountain resorts have organised themselves to welcome holidaymakers in total safety. The practice of an individual outdoor sport such as skiing does not present any specific risk," they said in a statement on Wednesday.

Further delaying the full reopening of resorts could lead to "the definitive and irreversible destruction of our economic model", they added, stressing that winter tourism is worth an annual €10 billion and supports 120,000 jobs.

7,000 people vaccinated

France is one of the world's most heavily impacted countries, and continental Europe's second-worst hit after Italy. Since the beginning of the global health crisis, it has recorded more than 66,200 deaths and 2.6 million infections.

A nighttime curfew is currently in vigour throughout the country to curb the spread of the virus, and confining people to their homes from 20:00 to 06:00 local time. For six million inhabitants in large swathes of the east of the country, the curfew is even stricter, starting at 18:00.

The government has come under heavy criticism in recent days for the slow roll-out of the vaccine. The Pfizer/BioNTech jab was made available to EU member states on December 26 but France had only administered 7,000 doses by January 5, compared to about 300,000 in Germany and 260,000 in Italy.

Attal said the country will have received 1 million doses by Wednesday evening and that a further 500,000 doses would be delivered weekly going forward.

It also expects to receive 200,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, approved on Wednesday by the European Medicines Agency, in the first month to be followed by monthly deliveries of half a million doses.