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French people defy rain to enjoy reopening of café and bistro terraces

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By Sandrine Amiel
Women enjoy a cafe and an orange juice at a café terrace Wednesday, May, 19, 2021 in Strasbourg, eastern France.
Women enjoy a cafe and an orange juice at a café terrace Wednesday, May, 19, 2021 in Strasbourg, eastern France.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias
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#TousEnTerrasse or "everyone on terraces" was the French motto on Wednesday as cafés and restaurants reopened their outdoor spaces for the first time in almost seven months, to the delight of coffee-drinkers and bistro-goers.

"Happiness!" tweeted Murielle Pinard, a financial analyst in Meudon, as she sat for her first non-home cooked meal in months with a friend.

The French government has opted for a cautious, step-by-step reopening to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 while giving the country back some of its signature "joie de vivre."

As part of the plan's first stage, the 7 pm nightly curfew was pushed back to 9 pm. Museums, theatres, cinemas and non-essential businesses reopened along with bistro terraces.

Jez Fielder
A buvette sees its first customers in months on Lyon's river Saone - May 19 2021Jez Fielder

President Emmanuel Macron was among the first to take a seat at a cafe terrace. He posted a video on Twitter where he was seen enjoying cups of coffee with Prime Minister Jean Castex.

"If we manage to get well organised collectively and continue vaccinating, have a common discipline as citizens, there’s no reason why we can't continue moving forward,” said Macron.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, meanwhile, hailed the French "art de vivre" on Twitter as he posted a photo of himself reading a popular sports newspaper on a Parisian terrace.

As long queues formed in front of French cinemas in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Castex said he would go to the movies later in the day.

Yet cinemas can only seat 35% of capacity, while museums must restrict entries to give at least 8m sq of space to each visitor.

French cafe and restaurant owners spent days preparing for the reopening, but the weather somewhat spoiled the party with heavy rains battering the country.

Many French coffee lovers still defied the storm to enjoy their shots at covered café terraces.

"We've cobbled things together," said Julien Hirard from Brasserie Au Metro in the 12th district of Paris.

"But we didn't do as well as we expected due to the rain," he told Euronews.

Hirard explained that under the new rules, restaurant terraces could only operate at 50% of their usual capacity. Out of 100 available terrace seats, only 30 were taken for lunch this Wednesday, he said.

"It's still a first step towards a full reopening," he added.

From June 9, indoor dining will be permitted and the curfew extended until 11 pm -- a further easing of restrictions which Hirard and other restaurateurs are very much looking forward to.

Among longest shutdowns in Europe

Elsewhere in Europe, Italy, Greece, Belgium and Hungary are among the countries that have already relaxed restrictions and allowed al fresco dining.

In Britain, people in England were allowed on Monday to eat restaurant meals indoors, drink inside a pub and go to a museum first time in months.

France, along with Poland, is the country where restaurants and cafés have been closed for the longest time in Europe.

Declining infection rates and ICU occupancy

France has reported more than 108,000 coronavirus deaths, which is among the highest tolls in Europe.

But coronavirus indicators have been improving in recent weeks.

On average, 14,000 new daily cases were reported over the past seven days, compared to 22,000 during the week of April 26 to May 2.

On Tuesday, 4,352 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units, compared to over 6,000 at the end of April.

About 40% of France's adult population has received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot — a rate still well behind the UK's 70% and behind several other EU countries.